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'Fragile' Cease-Fire Holds in Ukraine

  • VOA News

FILE - Pro-Russian rebels, cossacks from the 1st Cossack Regiment, guard a checkpoint decorated by Russian national and Don Cossacks flags, just outside in Pervomaisk, eastern Ukraine, Dec. 6, 2014.

FILE - Pro-Russian rebels, cossacks from the 1st Cossack Regiment, guard a checkpoint decorated by Russian national and Don Cossacks flags, just outside in Pervomaisk, eastern Ukraine, Dec. 6, 2014.

Ukraine's president said a "fragile" cease-fire is actually in place for the first time in his country's seven-month conflict between government troops and Russian-back separatists.

Petro Poroshenko said Friday that 24 hours had passed without any deaths or injuries of his soldiers.

"You simply can't imagine how important that this is for me. It's the first night when I don't have neither lost nor wounded a Ukrainian soldier. When we don't have any lost or wounded civilians," said Poroshenko.

Poroshenko said if the cease-fire held, it would be "a great step for peace and stability in Ukraine."

The president called for the truce Tuesday in a bid to revive a much-violated cease-fire agreement signed in September.

The Ukrainian leader made his comments in Sydney, Australia, on the second day of a three-day visit to Australia, a key Western ally.

President Poroshenko pleaded with Russia Thursday to remove its troops from war-torn eastern Ukraine.

"The truth is, that Russia are making a mistake of historic proportion. Ladies and gentleman, Ukraine, Russia and the whole world pay a price that is too high, fighting a war that is absolutely unnatural. So let's stop it," he said.

He also said that if Russia closed its border with Ukraine, there would be "peace and stability" within weeks.

"Within two or three weeks, if… Russian troops [get out] and close the border, it would be law, order, stability in Ukraine. We have no internal conflict at all. We have a humanitarian catastrophe," said Poroshenko.

Ukraine on Wednesday ruled out holding peace talks this week, saying the rebels are not interested in a negotiated settlement. It was not immediately clear if the new cease-fire would change that decision. The talks were expected to take place Friday in Belarus, but Kyiv had said this was impossible after the separatists had violated a cease-fire.

The Ukrainian military reported Wednesday that separatists launched 12 attacks just 24 hours after both sides began observing a halt in hostilities dubbed the "Day of Silence." It said the rebels used grenade launchers, anti-tank guided missiles, mortars, small arms and a tank weapon.

The "Day of Silence" was designed to encourage both sides to observe the wider cease-fire agreed to in September, which has been marred by sporadic fighting, and then begin pulling back their heavy weaponry from the front line to form a buffer zone.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of providing arms and soldiers to rebels who are fighting the Kyiv government. Russia has firmly denied the accusation. It says any Russian soldiers in the area are there on their own accord.

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