MOSCOW — Russian officials pressed Ukraine on Monday to declare a cease-fire with separatists, but Ukrainians say they are locked in a war not just against the rebels but also against Russia — on behalf of Europe.
‘‘A great war has come, the likes of which Europe has not seen since the Second World War,’’ Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said on his Facebook page Monday, adding that Ukraine must keep fighting and ‘‘show that Ukrainians are not going to give up.’’
Lost territory, trapped soldiers, and increasing reports of Russian tanks and troops operating in eastern Ukraine have changed the course of events in the past few days. Newly emboldened rebel forces are bearing down on strategic targets, such as the port city of Mariupol — which the Ukrainian military maintains it can defend — and the airport in Luhansk, where troops retreated in the face of a rebel onslaught Monday.
Ukraine and Western allies have surmised that the pro-Russian separatists are not acting alone and that Russian forces are providing significant assistance.
‘‘Russia is intervening overtly in Ukraine,’’ NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday, announcing that the alliance would draft a ‘‘Readiness Action Plan’’ at its upcoming summit in Wales to respond to ‘‘Russia’s aggressive behavior.’’
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