Fighting in eastern Ukraine has escalated to the worst level in months, officials monitoring the conflict said Tuesday, after the shelling of a front-line village wounded eight civilians and destroyed or damaged dozens of homes.
A Russia-backed insurgency erupted in 2014 and the bloodshed has continued despite a cease-fire deal that was meant to end a conflict in which more than 10,000 people have been killed, with casualties reported on a near-daily basis.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors the implementation of the peace agreement, said it had recorded 16,000 cease-fire violations from December 11 to December 17, a 35 percent increase from the week before.
"We note with concern a sharp deterioration in the security situation with cease-fire violations reaching levels not recorded since February this year," chief monitor Ertugrul Apakan said in a statement.
Violence near Avdiivka
In February, a surge of violence around the government-held industrial town of Avdiivka cut off power and water to thousands of civilians on the front line.
Apakan said the latest escalation reflected an established trend "in which a recommitment to the cease-fire by the sides was followed by a steady increase in the level of violence, culminating in fierce fighting."
Apakan's comments followed warnings from aid agencies about the humanitarian situation in the eastern Donbass region, particularly given Monday's attack on the government-controlled village of Novoluhanske.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Twitter that heavy shelling near Novoluhanske was affecting 2,000 residents. People were fleeing the area in blizzard conditions, it said.
Eight civilians were wounded and more than 50 buildings were damaged in the shelling, which also temporarily cut power supplies, the regional Kyiv-controlled Donetsk administration said.
A Reuters witness saw residents picking their way through the rubble of destroyed homes and surveying fire-blackened buildings.
The Ukrainian military on Tuesday accused pro-Russian separatists of deliberately firing more than 40 times from multiple-launch rocket systems at Novoluhanske.
Rebels say they were targeted
Meanwhile, the rebel command said attacks from the Ukrainian side had almost doubled in the past 24 hours, according to separatist news website DAN.
Rebels denied attacking Novoluhanske and said the Ukrainian military had fired at the village to justify their attacks on separatist-held civilian areas, according to DAN.
In an effort to end the deadlock, the international community, including the United States, has in recent months been advocating for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in the Donbass.
Both Kyiv and Moscow backed the idea but disagreed about whether the troops should be positioned on the rebel-controlled part of the Ukraine-Russia border, so no decision was made.
Russia denies accusations from Ukraine and NATO that it supports the rebels with troops and weapons.