SHYROKYNE, UKRAINE —
The cease-fire in eastern Ukraine has been in place just over a month, but on the front line outside Mariupol, between the Russian border and Crimea, the fighting has never stopped.
Signs of war are everywhere — Ukraine’s government fears this area could be the focus of the next rebel offensive. Tanks and armored personnel carriers face east, toward the village of Shyrokyne, a no-man’s land.
A Ukrainian commander, identified for this story only by his code name of Tank, said a soldier of the Ukrainian National Guard's Donbas battalion was killed and another injured last week.
“There never was any cease-fire," he said. "No Minsk [agreement] has ever been fulfilled here. ... We were in Lysychansk, there was no cease-fire. We were in Debaltseve, and there was no cease-fire. So it is like this. We cannot respond, and they just keep killing our boys.”
The soldiers outside Shyrokyne are not Ukrainian army members but volunteer militiamen. Igor was a taxi driver before he joined the Donbas battalion. He said the separatist forces attack them every day.
“If we talk about what happens here, then the previous night was the hardest one," he said. "They’ve tried to attack us from the north. They’ve been shooting with automatic guns and shelling."
Rumors of Russian forces building for attack on the border continue. Tank said his forces were committed to protecting Mariupol.
“We’re not going anywhere," he said, "because it’s a matter of safety of our citizens. If they [the rebels] will take control over Shyrokyne, they will have a strategic high position to be shelling Mariupol.”
Soldiers in the area blame separatist forces for breaking the cease-fire, saying they were still using tanks, despite being obliged by the agreement to withdraw. But the Donbas battalion acknowledged that Ukrainian forces were still returning fire.
With constant exchanges of fire, in a conflict that has left more than 6,000 dead since April, one can only wonder how much it will take to doom any pretense of a cease-fire agreement.