Intense clashes going on in eastern Ukraine as truce implementation nears
Fierce exchanges of fire between government troops and pro-Russia forces are underway in eastern Ukraine as a ceasefire to end hostilities in the highly volatile region is to take effect within hours.
On Saturday, the group responsible for monitoring the ceasefire, which is due to start at midnight on Saturday, stated that there is still “quite serious live fire” in several areas.
Artillery fire roared near the town of Svitlodarsk, located approximately 720 kilometers (447 miles) east of the capital, Kiev, and a significant movement of Ukrainian armored vehicles and rocket launchers were reported in the area.
Fighting on the Debaltseve frontline
Ferocious fighting also rages on the edge of the strategic battleground town of Debaltseve, where pro-Russians allege to have ensnared thousands of Ukrainian soldiers.
Authorities in the strife-torn city of Donetsk also said “ceaseless shelling” had claimed at least two civilian lives on Saturday.
The Ukrainian military has also announced that seven servicemen have been killed and 23 others wounded in the latest fighting with pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine in the past 24 hours.
Officials in the port city of Mariupol, meanwhile, said an array of artillery attacks hit areas near the city during the morning. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Under an agreement reached Thursday in the Belarusian capital, Mink, guns that had been blazing in eastern Ukraine must fall silent as of 2200 GMT on Saturday. The ceasefire will be a major test for the warring sides as a previous ceasefire inked on September 5 last year failed to take hold.
The UN Security Council is expected to meet on Sunday for an emergency session to shore up the ceasefire deal, diplomats said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has warned that the ongoing clashes in eastern Ukraine have placed the peace plan reached in Minsk at “big danger” before it can even take effect.
“After Minsk, the offensive operation of Russia intensified significantly,” Poroshenko claimed.
“After what we have reached in Minsk, it is an attack not only on Ukrainian civilians, but also on the Minsk results,” he added.
EU, G7 to impose anti-Russia embargoes if deal fails
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned Moscow that she is not ruling out further European Union (EU) sanctions against Moscow if the truce in eastern Ukraine collapses. The 28-member politico-economic bloc has already slapped Russia with sanctions over the Ukrainian crisis.
The G7 nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – have also voiced readiness to “intensify the costs” for anyone who violates the terms of the Minsk agreement.
The two mainly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine have been the scene of deadly clashes between pro-Russia forces and the Ukrainian army since Kiev launched military operations to silence pro-Russia protests there in mid-April 2014.
Violence intensified in May last year after the two flashpoint regions held local referendums in which their residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation.
The fighting has reportedly left 5,500 people dead, and more than 12,900 others injured.