Fighting Continues In Eastern Ukraine

Ten people have been killed in the Ukraine as fighting enters its third day in the rebel-held frontline town of Avdiivka. Despite attempts to renew the 2015 Minsk Ceasefire, Eastern Ukraine has seen some of the worst fighting in months.

The Ukrainian military attributes this outbreak of fighting to a rebel-imitated attack on Avdiivka. Avdiivka is a government-held industrial town on the frontline of the rebel-held territory. Military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said that the “enemy continues to fire at our positions with heavy artillery and mortars.” Reports say that water and electricity services have been cut off. The Red Cross tweeted that “hostilities continue and people start to lose hope,” adding that the temperature was -18°C. Authorities have declared a state of emergency in the 16,000-person town, and are preparing for an evacuation of the town. Avdiivka’s military administrator, Freedon Vekua, told AFP that “the issue of evacuation has not been decided fully” because it is seen as a “very last resort.”

The Ukrainian military and the rebel forces released different figures, and these claims have not yet been independently verified. Ukraine reported that 15 rebel soldiers died with a further 24 wounded, while rebel forces said that 25 Ukrainian soldiers died and over 40 were wounded. Ukrainian military reports said that 7 Ukrainian soldiers died. Meanwhile, local sources suggested upwards of 3 civilian deaths.

Eastern Ukraine has been in conflict since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014. Pro-Russian forces launched an insurgency, and more than 9,700 people have died in the ensuing conflict. The February 2015 Minsk Ceasefire deal opened the peninsula up to de facto Russian admiration. International pressure and non-recognition of Russia’s asserted sovereignty have been ineffective, as this latest outbreak of violence illustrates. On Tuesday, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said that “the current escalation is a clear indication of Russia’s continued, blatant disregard of its commitments under the Minsk agreements.” Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the Ukraine of orchestrating the attacks as a distraction from domestic problems, and issued a warning that the region was “on the verge of humanitarian and ecological catastrophe.”

BBC World coverage suggests that the renewal of violence was prompted by President Donald Trump’s first phone call to President Vladimir Putin since he took office. Russia has denied backing the rebel forces, but the agreement by the two presidents on a “partner-like cooperation” on Ukrainian issues has caused concern in Kiev. The EU called for the “fighting to stop immediately,” but given the complex political situation, regionally and internationally, it seems unlikely that a solution will be reached proximately.