Sunday 24 September 2017

Fighting spreading across Ukraine as new talks held

New talks are held as intense combat makes a mockery of the truce

Anatol Kaprinsky

Fighting raged across eastern Ukraine yesterday despite European efforts to resurrect a stillborn ceasefire, a day after pro-Russian separatists spurned the truce by forcing thousands of government troops out of a strategic town.

Shelling was reported from several places in eastern Ukraine despite the ceasefire .

Artillery fire could be heard in the region's biggest city, Donetsk, where the truce had been observed so far.

Ukrainian military sources also accused rebels of shelling positions near the port city of Mariupol.

The fighting comes as Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany held further talks over the phone.

Most of the renewed fighting in Donetsk appears to be in the north of the city towards the airport.

The BBC's Ian Pannell, who is in the city, says it sounds like shells are being fired in both directions, although that cannot be verified.

Further south, a spokesman for the Ukrainian government forces said rebel units had attacked the village of Shirokyne, killing one soldier, with shells also fired towards Mariupol.

The government-held port city of Mariupol is in a highly strategic position, sitting between rebel-held eastern areas and Crimea, which Russia annexed nearly a year ago.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - which is charged with monitoring the ceasefire - also reported more shelling near the embattled town of Debaltseve which observers have not been able to reach.

Semen Semenchenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who leads the volunteer Donbass Battalion, said he blamed the fall of Debaltseve on the Ukrainian army command and called for it to be overhauled.

"I can assure you that we lost Debaltseve not because of the Russian military advantage, but because our generals refuse to take responsibility," he said.

He also reiterated calls for the West to send arms to Ukraine.

"I believe if we don't stop the Russian military machine now the West would have to interfere later, but it would be more serious," he said.

Thousands of weary and demoralised soldiers withdrew from Debaltseve on Wednesday in one of the worst defeats suffered by Kiev during 10 months of fighting in which more than 5,000 people have been killed.

European and US officials have expressed hope that the ceasefire will hold now that the rebels, fighting for territory Russian president Vladimir Putin has called "New Russia", have achieved their immediate goal of taking Debaltseve.

But correspondents outside the rebel-held town of Vuhlehirsk said artillery shells were still falling on nearby Debaltseve, though with less intensity than earlier this week. Reporters in the main rebel stronghold of Donestsk said there was also shelling in the area.

The Kiev government's biggest fear is of a rebel assault on Mariupol, the port of 500,000 people and by far the biggest government-held city in the two rebellious eastern provinces.

Irish Independent

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