Ukrainian soldiers, rebels and civilians have been killed in the latest spate of violence. European officials have warned of a humanitarian disaster after power outages left thousands to cope in sub-zero temperatures.
Ukraine conflict on the brink
At least 13 civilians and fighters have been killed in the latest escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv and rebel authorities said on Tuesday.
Kyiv announced that eight government troops have been killed and another 26 wounded since Sunday, when clashes erupted between rebel and Ukrainian forces, marking the heaviest losses for the military since last month.
“The current escalation in Donbass is a clear indication of Russia’s continued blatant disregard of its commitments under the Minsk agreements with a view of preventing the stabilization of the situation and achieving any progress in the security and humanitarian fears,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Ukrainian government soldiers of launching a deadly attack on rebels across the Avdiivka frontline on Monday.
“Such aggressive actions, supported by the armed forces of Ukraine, undermine the aims and the task of realizing the Minks accord,” Peskov said. He added that the attack aimed to distract attention from domestic problems in Ukraine.
Since the conflict erupted in April 2014, both sides have accused each other of fomenting unrest and launching attacks in violation of ceasefire agreements.
Minsk II, a second agreement signed last year by members of the international community and representatives of the warring parties, aimed to ease tensions in the rebel-held regions after the previous ceasefire deal collapsed.
However, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine has reported violations on a nearly-daily basis.
‘Worsening humanitarian situation’
The head of Europe’s premier human rights body, Council of Europe (CoE), warned that the hostilities were having consequences on civilian life. Power outages across the area left thousands to deal with sub-zero temperatures in the middle of winter.
“I am deeply concerned by news from Donbass and reports of heavy fighting, resulting in the loss of lives and a worsening humanitarian situation affecting many civilians, including children,” CoE Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said.
“We are particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation in the cities of Donbass, notably in Avdiivka. I call on all sides to immediately stop hostilities and respect the ceasefire as defined in the Minsk agreement,” he added.
More than 10,000 people have been killed – half of them civilians – since 2014. The conflict has affected more than 500,000 children, with half of them internally displaced by the fighting, according to UN figures.
The OSCE’s chief monitor Ertugrul Apakan called on all sides of the conflict to cease hostilities in order to ease the humanitarian situation.
“Escalation in the area is of grave concern, with the civilian population greatly suffering,” Apakan said. “Violence on such a scale, involving the loss of life, is unacceptable and the protection of civilians must be paramount.”
ls/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)