Artillery Shelling Kills Four Civilians In Eastern Ukraine

Four civilians have been killed by artillery shelling in the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiyivka on Saturday, May 13th. Ukrainian officials blamed pro-Russian separatists for the deaths. Furthermore, a statement by Pavlo Zhebrivsky, the Ukrainian Governor of the Donetsk region, claimed that the shell hit a private house and “three women and one man perished,” while another injured man was taken to the hospital. Avdiyivka is situated six kilometres north of the city line of Russian separatist-controlled Donetsk and was the location of heavy fighting between the separatists and Ukrainian forces between January 29th and February 4th of this year. The shelling is considered to be the most serious violation of the Minsk Agreement, the current ceasefire deal, in the past two months.

Despite the accusations by the Ukrainian authorities, rebel forces in the region have not responded to the claims. The shelling happened hours before the Eurovision Song Contest in the capital of Kyiv, causing Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to cancel his appearance at the contest. He stated on Facebook that “due to the shelling of Avdiivka and the death of peaceful civilians, I took a decision to cancel my presence at the Eurovision final.” Prior to the shelling, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Ertugrul Apakan, the Chief Monitor for its Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, told the OSCE Permanent Council on May 12th that the safety and security of unarmed monitors and civilians must be prioritized by both sides of the conflict. In April, an OSCE patrol member was killed and another was injured when their convoy hit an explosive device in the Luhansk region.

The continued intermittent fighting and violence highlights the need to strengthen the fragile ceasefire agreement and place more pressure on both sides to reach a definite solution to the conflict. Russia must facilitate the full cessation of conflict and increase open dialogue between the separatists and the Ukrainian government, as promoted by Angela Merkel during her state visit to Russia on May 2nd. Local elections, as agreed upon by the Minsk Agreement, should also be held in the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk to establish some form of stability.

The east of Ukraine has been in a state of insecurity since the beginning of the armed conflict with pro-Russian separatists in 2014, leading to the self-declared territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Minsk II, which was negotiated in 2015 following the collapse of the first Minsk Protocol, established the framework for the current ceasefire. The agreement, however, has been sporadically disregarded in clashes by both sides ever since its implementation. Recent fighting has focused on key strategic points of infrastructure. This is illustrated by the continued struggle around Avdiyivka, as its industrial zone ‘Promzona’ has control of the Donetsk-Horlivka highway, which is a main line of communications for two corps of the Donetsk People’s Republic separatists.

The most recent shelling raises the death toll to 14 deaths of both soldiers and civilians, this month alone. According to the OSCE, there have been 35 civilians killed and 156 wounded since the start of 2017. If the ceasefire continues to be disregarded, it is likely that more civilians will be caught up in the conflict. With that said, steps must be taken by both sides to de-escalate the ongoing fighting and uphold the Minsk Agreement.