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Ukrainian City Remembers Rocket Attack Victims

  • Daniel Schearf

In Kramatorsk, Ukraine's regional military headquarters for battling Russia-backed rebels in the east, officials held a memorial Saturday for those killed in a Tuesday rocket attack.

A midnight cease-fire has stopped most of the fighting between Ukrainian forces and the rebels, though some sporadic clashes continue.

Concerns remain focused on the strategic city of Debaltseve, 100 kilometers south of Kramatorsk, after the U.S. released satellite photos of what is said are Russian artillery.

The people of Kramatorsk remembered those killed Tuesday when rockets with cluster bombs rained down on their city.

In the struggle for Ukraine's future, Donetsk region Governor Alexander Kihtenko underscored a point they were all too painfully aware of -- it was not only combatants who were dying in this fight.

"Today, when we are here together showing our respect to the memory of those who were killed, shelling of peaceful residential areas of Donetsk region continues," Kihtenko said.

Civilians killed

More than 5,300 people have died in eastern Ukraine since April, most of them civilians caught in the crossfire.

At the Kramatorsk memorial, some held signs blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin, accused by the West of arming the rebels -- a charge he has denied.

City council member Volodimir Rzhavskiy called the Kramatorsk attack a crime against humanity.

“Ukraine is bleeding," Rzhavskiy said. "How many innocent victims will the world need to stop the aggressor and make him answer?”

Human Rights Watch said both sides used cluster bombs and the Kremlin pointed to similar attacks by Ukrainian forces on residential areas of rebel-controlled cities.

A million people have fled the violence and most, like Ella Nesterenko, have little faith in the cease-fire.

“We really hope for the Minsk agreements, for a cease-fire. Sorry, I’m really nervous. It’s really scary and painful to lose relatives. We’re really tired of this,” Nestereko said.

The U.S. released satellite photos Saturday, saying they were proof of Russian artillery around Debaltseve, a hotly contested and strategic railway hub.

Russia's Defense Department dismissed the claims as guesswork.

Pressure urged for Putin

Regional Governor Kihtenko told VOA more pressure was needed on Putin to ensure the cease-fire is honored.

“I would like it to be respected. And, the whole world wants it. But, it all depends on one person. That’s why we wait,” Kihtenko said.

Ukrainian troops at a base in Slovyansk said if the cease-fire failed, they were confident they could hold Debaltseve, despite having a less powerful or modern military.

A machine gunner named Alexander fought at the Donetsk airport, which they eventually lost to the rebels because, he said, they did not receive orders fast enough.

“We have the equipment, we just need the coordination and motivation, because people are tired and just want to go home because war is exhausting,” Alexander said.

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