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Sunday 18 February 2018

Deaths in eastern Ukraine as government troops and separatists clash

Ukrainian tanks in the yard of an apartment block in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine (AP)
Ukrainian tanks in the yard of an apartment block in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine (AP)

Artillery has been fired in eastern Ukraine as escalated fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatist rebels continues for a fifth day.

Two Ukrainian troops were killed overnight and 10 others wounded, the government said, while rebels said one of their fighters was killed.

Shelling appeared to intensify after nightfall and both sides reported civilian deaths - two in Avdiivka and one in Donetsk city.

Grad rocket launchers could be heard firing on both sides during the night. In the afternoon, shelling was heard in the distance from Avdiivka, a government-held town north of Donetsk, the largest rebel-controlled city.

At least 15 people have been reported killed since the fighting around Avdiivka surged over the weekend.

More than 9,700 people have been killed since the war with separatist rebels began in April 2014.

An agreement reached nearly two years ago called for a ceasefire and a pullback of heavy weaponry by both sides, but skirmishes persist.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has accused Ukraine of starting the latest escalation to rally support from the new US administration and other Western powers.

Ukraine is concerned that President Donald Trump could roll back some sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, and that European Union members could follow suit.

"The Ukrainian leadership needs money, and the best way to get the EU, the US and international organisations to pay is by posing as a victim of aggression," Mr Putin said.

He spoke in Budapest after a meeting with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

Shelling over the weekend damaged water, heating and electricity supplies in Avdiivka amid a strong cold snap.

Valentina Pasternak stood on her porch clutching two loaves of bread brought by aid workers. A shell landed in her yard.

"I was born in 1941. I was in a war at birth and now I see it again," she said.

By Thursday, water and heat had been partly restored, but Avdiivka remains without electricity.

In Brussels, European Union president Donald Tusk urged Moscow to pressure the separatists to make sure the flare-up of fighting ends and a ceasefire is restored.

"Russia should use its influence to disengage the Russia-backed separatists," he said.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, maintained a low-key approach with a restrained tone that may reflect the start of a new US response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.


Press Association

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