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Ukraine desperate for IMF aid as money runs low

With reports that Ukraine's gas supply could be turned off imminently and fears that the country is on the brink of bankruptcy, Ukraine government officials told CNBC the country is relying on International Monetary Fund (IMF) aid to come to its rescue.

"This is a very serious financial crisis there's no question, and we're looking forward to the IMF board meeting and the IMF first tranche (of aid) because it's a critical time," Natalie Jaresko, finance minister of Ukraine, told CNBC Wednesday.

International financial aid of around $40 billion – with around $17 billion coming from the IMF – was pledged earlier this month but the money is yet to be released and is reliant on several reforms being introduced by the Kiev government.

Speaking to CNBC in Kiev, U.S.-born Jaresko said she was confident that the Ukraine government was doing it all it could to ensure the money was released swiftly.

"We've worked very quickly over the last two months to come to a program of Ukrainian reforms so I believe we will be doing everything we need to do to ensure that money does come, and comes as soon as possible."

People carrying Ukrainian flags participate in the 'March of Dignity' in Kiev, Ukraine.
Getty Images

"Our government is committed, the parliament is committed and the Ukrainian people are committed to those reforms," she said, adding that the money was expected to arrive sometime in the second week of March. "Timing-wise, I wish it was sooner," she said.

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Although the $40 billion aid package was substantial, Ukraine could need more, the finance minister said.

"This package is enough to stabilize the situation but if we are going to return to growth, if we are going to rebuild and regain access to our territory we are going to need something much greater and much more support."

Ukraine is running out of money fast. At the end of January, the foreign currency reserves held by the Ukraine central bank were $6.4 billion, with reserves pressured over the last year by interventions to prop up the weakening currency, debt repayments to foreign creditors and gas payments to Russia.

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"We strongly believe that there is not a threat of any default situation," Dmytro Shymkiv, deputy head of the presidential administration of Ukraine, told CNBC Tuesday.

"There are very clear negotiations with the IMF as to how we will succeed, the IMF and international community are supporting us, and there is a full assurance that things will happen, it's just that, technically, things are not happening yet."

Speaking to CNBC in Kiev, Shymkiv said there was hope that the IMF would give the go-ahead to the aid and the money could be released to Ukraine by early March.

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Ukraine's conviction that it won't default was echoed by the director of the monetary policy and economic analysis at the National Bank of Ukraine, Sergey Nikolaychuk.

"I strongly believe we will not default in two weeks," he told CNBC.

Given Ukraine's ongoing military conflict with Russia, and the failure of the ceasefire between the parties, the economic decline does not look like it could reverse any time soon.

Ukraine's currency plunged to record lows on Monday, prompting the government to step rengthen currency controls. On Tuesday, the Ukranian hyrvnia had weakened further to close at 33 against the dollar but it had strengthened Wednesday, at 27.5 to the dollar.

To put the currency's decline into context, however, in the last six months the hyrvnia has depreciated over 100 percent against the greenback, as the conflict with Russia has intensified.

"The current level (of the hyrvnia) is definitely very far from the fundamentals," Nikolaychuk told CNBC, adding that the currency turmoil is down to the "uncertainty related to the future development of the military conflict."

On Wednesday, the central bank stepped up controls by preventing banks from buying foreign currency for clients and limiting what they could buy for themselves.

The currency crisis has sparked protests. On Tuesday, crowds gathered outside the central bank to protest the hyrvnia's decline.

But Ukraine's problems could get a lot worse if follows through on its threats and switches off the country's crucial gas supplies.

Gazprom, which is partly state-owned, said on Tuesday that Ukraine had failed to pre-pay for its gas on time and if it did not pay up, its supply would be cut off in two days, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Denying the accusation on Tuesday, Naftogaz, Ukraine's oil and gas provider, said in a statement on its website that Gazprom had not fulfilled pre-paid orders for the past two days and had broken contractual terms.

(The energy company said it will not be in a position to make an additional advance payment for supply of Russian gas until it receives assurances that Gazprom would abide by its agreement.

- Written by CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, reported by Steve Sedgwick. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld