At least five Ukrainian soldiers have perished and 13 have been wounded in re-intensified clashes with pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine despite a ceasefire deal made in December 2016.
The latest flare-up in the fighting in what has increasingly seemed in recent months as a frozen conflict in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk districts has been announced by the Ukrainian government’s press office for its “anti-terrorist operation” in the east.
The pro-Russian insurgency in the Donbass, possibly with Moscow’s active support, began back in 2014, after Russia’s seized from Ukraine and then annexed the Crimean Peninsula in reaction to the Euromaidan Revolution in Kiev which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and promised to bring Ukraine closer to the EU and NATO.
The armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 9,600 lives since 2014, according to the UN Human Rights Office, and has displaced millions of people.
Analysts have commented that the intensity of fighting on the Donbass front may be connected with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relations with the West, or, rather, their rapprochement prospects.
According to the Ukrainian government, the fighting along the front in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk has re-intensified in 56 different points.
The clashes have also been confirmed by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. One civilian was killed and three were wounded in Makiivka, northeast of Donetsk, according to the separatist Donetsk News Agency.
According to the Ukrainian government, the pro-Russian rebels have used Grad rocket systems to launch an attack near the city of Mariupol on the Black Sea coast, while on the Luhansk front the attacks have been led with fire from mortars and grenade launchers. The attacks have been beaten back.
This is the second announcement in the past two days by Ukraine’s government about new clashes in the Donbass. Over the weekend, it reported heavy fighting near Avdeevka where three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and one was wounded. Later on Monday, the intelligence service of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry estimated a total of 15 insurgents from the pro-Russian forces have been killed, and 24 have been wounded.
However, according to the Defense Ministry of the self-proclaimed separatist Donetsk People’s Republic, the Ukrainians lost 15 troopers, whereas another 20 were wounded. It also said a battalion commander from its own forces had been killed.
Last Friday, peace observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed the reports about growing violence in Ukraine’s Donbass region, with a growing number of ceasefire violations.
In December 2016, the parties to the war in Eastern Ukraine agreed to an “indefinite truce”. Before than, in February 2015, a peace deal known as “Minsk II” was brokered in the Belarusian capital Minsk by Germany, France, and Russia, which has since scaled down the hostilities but has kept the frontlines in a semi-hot, semi-frozen conflict which keeps flaring up.