Fighting Rages In Eastern Ukraine Ahead Of Ceasefire
February 14, 2015
Deadly fighting has continued to rage in eastern Ukraine despite an imminent cease-fire between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.
The rebels have stepped up attacks on Ukrainian forces in several cities, dimming hopes for the peace accord sealed on February 12 in Minsk by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France.
The truce comes into force at midnight local time on February 15.
Ukrainian authorities reported about 120 separate attacks in the past 24 hours and accused Russia of pouring weapons into eastern Ukraine in a bid to help the militants seize more territory before the truce begins.
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said seven Ukrainian service personnel have been killed and 23 wounded in that time.
Debaltseve, a strategic transport hub controlled by government forces, has reportedly come under intense rebel bombardments.
Local police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said the town was 'in flames.'
'The rebels are destroying the town of Debaltseve,' he wrote on Facebook. 'There are non-stop artillery bombardments of residential areas and buildings.'
He added that Grad missiles had hit the town's police headquarters.
Debaltseve has been the epicenter of fierce fighting in recent days, forcing thousands of civilians to flee. Militants say they have encircled Ukrainian forces there, a claim Kyiv rejects.
The port city of Mariupol reportedly came under fresh artillery attacks on February 14.
Mariupol is on the Azov Sea, and the separatists are suspected of trying to seize it in a bid to establish a corridor between mainland Russia and the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine last year.
The Azov battalion, a volunteer unit in Ukraine's National Guard, said fighting is also underway in the village of Shyrokyne, in the Donetsk region
The battalion wrote on the Russian-language social network VKontakte that the rebels had launched an offensive using artillery, tanks, and armored personnel carriers.
Journalists in Donetsk said at least two people were killed by shelling in the city center. Mortars also fell close to the residence of pro-Russian separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko in Donetsk.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine tweeted recent satellite images that he said showed Russian artillery near Debaltseve.
Geoffrey Pyatt also said on Twitter that Russian units along the border were preparing a large shipment of supplies to separatist fighters.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov called the allegations 'guesswork.'
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of pouring weapons into eastern Ukraine in a bid to help the militants seize more territory before the truce begins.
The United States has charged Russia and pro-Russian rebels with violating 'the spirit' of a fresh peace deal for eastern Ukraine.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Russia had deployed an air defense system at Debaltseve, along with 'a large amount of artillery and multiple rocket launcher systems.'
'This is clearly not in the spirit of this week's agreement,' she said.
The Russia Foreign Ministry, in turn, accused Kyiv and Western nations of 'distorting' the peace agreement and siding with what it described as 'radical nationalists' in the Ukrainian parliament.
The White House is under increasing pressure from Congress to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons.
The attacks have prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to voice fresh doubts about the Minsk deal.
'Nobody has a strong belief that the peace conditions which were signed in Minsk will be implemented strictly,' he said.
Countries from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations said they were ready to take 'appropriate measures' against those who violate the agreement, an apparent threat of more economic sanctions against Russia.
In a joint statement issued by the French presidency, the G7 leaders said they remained concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine and, in particular, about fighting around the town of Debaltseve ahead of the February 15 cease-fire.
'All parties should refrain from actions in the coming days that would hinder the start of the ceasefire,' the statement said.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine is estimated to have killed more than 5,300 people since last April.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, Interfax
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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