Ukrainian government forces battled Russian-backed separatists in eastern regions Friday, a top official said, as Kyiv proposed sanctions against dozens of Russian companies and individuals.
The fighting came as Ukraine’s armed forces tightened cordons in and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, the last remaining strongholds for rebels whose insurgency is now in its fifth month.
At least 15 servicemen were killed and 79 wounded as troops broke out of encirclement by separatist forces near the border with Russia, said Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the National Security and Defense Council.
Lysenko alleged they had been targeted both by the separatists and Russian military units firing across the border.
It was impossible to confirm the allegation of cross-border fire, though intelligence and witness reports have documented multiples instances of rockets and artillery being fired from the Russian side of the border in recent weeks.
Officials in Donetsk said four residents were killed and 18 wounded in shelling on Thursday. Lysenko was quoted by The Associated Press as denying that Ukrainian forces had shelled Donetsk.
Meanwhile, Kyiv on Friday moved to join the United States, Australia and several European governments in imposing sanctions against Russian companies and individuals. A total of 65 companies and 172 citizens of Russia and other countries are being targeted, according to Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The measure, which will be submitted to parliament, is aimed at those who "have been financing terrorism, supported the annexation of Crimea and encroached on the territorial integrity of Ukraine," Yatsenyuk was quoted by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency as saying.
The action against Russian companies would include freezing assets, limiting trade operations and banning capital withdrawal from Ukraine, he said. They could also include a ban on air flights and transit of cargo and commodities through Ukraine.
It wasn’t immediately what the impact of the sanctions would be, though Ukraine’s economy is closely interlinked with Russia’s. Moscow had imposed some punitive trade measures earlier, and any large scale retaliation would have a sever effect on Ukraine’s already battered economy.
A day earlier, Russia stopped imports of most food from the West in retaliation for U.S. and EU sanctions. Roughly 10 percent of EU agricultural exports go to Russia, worth around 11 billion euros annually, according to Reuters.
UN Reports of Rights Abuses
Also Friday, a senior U.N. human rights official said that there was a “reign of fear and terror” in areas under control of separatist rebels. Ivan Simonovic told the U.N. Security Council that the government since April has recorded over 900 abductions by armed groups, including many journalists, politicians, students and even international monitors.
“Abducted individuals have been used as an exchange currency to free members of armed groups detained by the government; to extort money or property and as a source of forced labor, to dig trenches or barricades close to the epicenter of the violence,” Simonovic said.
More than 1,500 people have been killed since mid-April, he said.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, criticized the report as an “example of exquisite political rhetoric where facts and conclusions are shaped to fit certain political requirements.”
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power questioned Russia’s proposed humanitarian corridors for affected areas of eastern Ukraine, saying aid should be delivered by international organizations, like the Red Cross.
“Any further unilateral intervention by Russia into Ukrainian territory – including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid – would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming,” she said. “And it would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine.”
Western analysts say about 20,000 Russian troops have redeployed near the border in recent days, along with armor, infantry, special forces and aircraft.
VOA's U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information for this report comes from AP and Reuters.