Russia has said it is no longer prepared to tolerate any delays to an aid convoy heading for Ukraine and that the trucks are starting to move towards the Ukrainian city of Luhansk, where pro-Russian rebels are fighting government forces.
At least 70 trucks crossed the border into eastern Ukraine on Friday, Reuters news agency reported.
The move comes seemingly without permission from Kiev, following more than a week’s delay over suspicions the mission would be used as a cover for invasion.
“All excuses to delay sending aid… have been exhausted. The Russian side has taken the decision to act,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday, warning against any attempts to disrupt the convoy’s movement.
“Our humanitarian aid column is starting to move in the direction of Luhansk.”
More than 200 trucks had been held at the border zone over Ukraine’s concerns that Russia had not complied with International Red Cross rules when it comes to humanitarian aid.
The ICRC confirmed it was not escorting the convoy, citing the “volatile security situaiton” in the region.
The trucks loaded with water, generators and sleeping bags are intended for civilians in the city of Luhansk, where pro-Russian separatist fighters are besieged by Ukrainian forces.
Shelling of the city has been ongoing for weeks.
The relief supply mission is proceeding despite both sides in the conflict ignoring pleas for a ceasefire.
Several of the vehicles had been cleared by both countries’ customs authorities on Thursday and were waiting for the green light to enter Ukraine from an ICRC team that had been overseeing the operation.
Ukraine has expressed repeated fears that Russia may be using the vehicles to smuggle in weapons to pro-Kremlin rebels who have been battling government forces for more than four months.
Russia has consistently denied that it is arming separatist rebel groups operating in the eastern cities of Luhansk and Donetsk.
NATO, along with Kiev and other western powers, had warned any humanitarian aid coming from Russia could be used as a pretext by the country to establish a military presence on the ground in Ukraine’s east.
The ICRC, meanwhile, said it would not launch the aid delivery mission until it received firm security assurances from both Kiev and the separatists that the column will not be attacked.
Fighting in the regions has severely affected civilians, many of whom are without sufficient food and water. Energy supplies have also been cut off.
Thousands of people have tried to flee their homes in the face of continued shelling of the major rebel-held cities.