Soldiers dying as Ukraine creeps towards truce

2014-12-05 19:21
A building damaged by shelling is seen in Mikolaivka village, near the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine. (Dmitry Lovetsky, AP)

A building damaged by shelling is seen in Mikolaivka village, near the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine. (Dmitry Lovetsky, AP)

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Kiev - Ukraine said on Friday it had lost another six soldiers in the past day amid fresh reports of intense fighting for control of a flashpoint eastern airport despite tentative steps towards a comprehensive truce.

Military spokesperson Andriy Lysenko said six troops had been killed and 13 injured in the past day but he did not specify where.

Local media and social networks however have been reporting devastating clashes at the airport on the outskirts of rebel-held city Donetsk despite a ceasefire being declared there earlier this week.

A besieged group of government soldiers has been clinging on to the airport against waves of attacks by pro-Russian separatist forces - but little information on the fighting is being released by either Kiev or the rebel command.

All sides of the festering conflict now appear keen to curb the violence, announcing on Thursday that a fresh truce would come into force across the entire frontline on 9 December.

Throughout the eight-month conflict, both sides have been reluctant to admit the full scale of carnage.

An earlier ceasefire in September was agreed in the wake of a bruising battle for the city of Ilovaisk.

It was weeks before the Ukrainian military admitted that 108 troops and many more volunteer fighters had been killed in a failed attempt to take back the town - and only after information had started emerging from unofficial sources.

Although the September ceasefire - overseen by Russia and European monitors - reduced fighting along the frontline, daily clashes have continued in certain areas and it remains unclear if the latest peace efforts will be any more effective.

A ceasefire in name

Speaking in Basel, Switzerland, where foreign ministers from 53 OSCE countries have been meeting for two days, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that so far, "we don't have a real ceasefire, it's just a ceasefire in name".

"What we need is to achieve real ceasefire, to set up real control for the Russian-Ukrainian border, and of course to get a breakthrough on hostages," he said.

The new ceasefire is due to begin on 9 December, which has been labelled the "Day of Silence".

A source in the office of President Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine would begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the eastern frontline the following day - as long as the separatists also observed the ceasefire.

The head of the rebel government in Donetsk, Alexander Zakharchenko, said on Friday he was "ready to comply with the truce".

Valeriy Chaly, the president's deputy chief of staff, said he had "high hopes" for the new agreement.

"December 9 could be that date ... after which we will begin the withdrawal of heavy weapons and artillery," he told reporters.

But events on the eastern frontline are only a part of the bigger geopolitical game between the East and West that they helped set in train.

In a defiant state-of-the-nation address on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of exploiting the Ukrainian crisis to undermine an increasingly confident Moscow.

The Kremlin has dismissed a wealth of evidence indicating it has sent troops and military equipment into eastern Ukraine.

Putin said the resulting sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union were an attempt to force the "collapse and dismemberment" of Russia as happened in the former Yugoslavia.

Even without the Ukraine crisis, the West "would have thought up some other excuse to contain Russia's growing possibilities", he said.

Read more on:    petro poroshenko  |  vladimir putin  |  russia  |  ukraine

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