At least two Ukrainian soldiers, and several civilians, have been killed, following fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels, in restive eastern Ukraine.
Fighting flared between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels in separate parts of eastern Ukraine overnight, killing at least two Ukrainian soldiers and several civilians, Kiev’s military and separatist sources said on Monday.
The clashes, near the port of Mariupol in the southeast and at rebel-held Horlivka, further frayed an increasingly tenuous ceasefire as Ukraine prepared to mark its Independence Day next week.
Kiev accused the separatists of shelling civilians on the outskirts of Mariupol. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed Kiev for the violence, giving no detail but saying he suspected Ukraine was preparing a new offensive.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko meanwhile accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to whip up tensions in eastern Ukraine by visiting Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine last year. The Kremlin said Putin was promoting tourism on the peninsula.
The escalation has drawn expressions of concern from Western governments, which regard the ceasefire and tentative peace agreement worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February as still the best chance of ending the rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the rebels had used howitzers with a range of 15-16 km (10 miles) to shell Sartana, on Mariupol’s northern edge.
“The enemy was not shelling Ukrainian positions, but a civilian town,” he told a briefing. “The enemy has now adopted the tactic of firing and then quickly withdrawing. The next time they’ll get a quick response. What has happened in Sartana is a challenge to our forces.”
He said two Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and seven wounded by separatists in the past 24 hours.