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Ukraine's Month-old Cease-fire Marked by Fighting


Firefighters try to extinguish a burning private house after shelling in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 5, 2014.
Firefighters try to extinguish a burning private house after shelling in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 5, 2014.

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatist fighters on Sunday marked one month since the signing of a Kremlin-backed truce with one the most heated battles of the six-month war in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's military accused Russian-backed separatists of fresh violations of the cease-fire, saying their forces came under attack in several parts of the east including the airport at Donetsk.

Artillery blasts rocked Donetsk on Sunday morning.

Ukraine said 75 soldiers and civilians have been killed since the cease-fire took effect September 5.

Airport assault

On Sunday, military spokesman Volodymyr Polyovy said rebels had launched two more airport attacks "with support of tanks" over the past 24 hours, but were repelled.

Two Ukrainian service staff were killed in the past 24 hours and six others were wounded, Polyovy said in the capital Kyiv, adding: “The terrorists are violating the terms of the cease-fire.”

However, both sides have stopped short of declaring the truce null, despite the continuing carnage, which has killed more than 3,500 people in eastern Ukraine, according to U.N. figures.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is hoping the cease-fire, cornerstone of a peace plan signed September 5 to end the conflict, will generally hold together for parliamentary elections on Oct. 26.

Poroshenko called the cease-fire after government troops suffered heavy losses that Kyiv attributed to Russian troops reinforcing the separatists who want to break away from pro-Western Kyiv's rule.

Moscow denies its troops have been directly involved in the fighting despite what Kyiv and Western government say is incontrovertible proof.

Truce under pressure

But the truce has come under great pressure this past week.

Last Monday, seven Ukrainian troops were killed in a single missile strike from a separatist tank and at least 10 people were killed on Wednesday when mortar bombs hit a school playground and a public transit van nearby.

In Donetsk on Sunday, where strategic buildings are controlled by separatists, a senior rebel official, Eduard Basulin, said three separatist fighters were killed and another 32 wounded in the past 24 hours, mainly in fighting around Donetsk airport.

Rebels have been trying for weeks to dislodge government troops from the airport, which, with a modernized runway capable of taking heavy transporters, has strategic value.

“The airport is a springboard for the city,” Basulin told Reuters. “Our main task is to push them (government forces) away from the city so that they can no longer shell residential districts. “

Polyovy said there was also fighting around the towns of Debaltseve and Shchastye both farther east toward the border with Russia.

Civilian deaths

Basulin said three civilians had also been killed in Donetsk area in the past 24 hours and he blamed Ukrainian forces for shelling the city's outskirts from positions adjacent to the airport.

The Ukrainian military denies firing on civilian targets and said it only replies to fire when it is attacked by separatists.

The cease-fire called for both Ukrainian forces and the separatists to pull back from their front lines to create a 30-kilometer buffer.

But Kyiv said it will not retreat until the rebels stop firing on its positions, including at the airport, while the rebels have shown no interest in yielding control of strategic buildings they hold near the transportation hub.

Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have even created a monitoring contact group together with the OSCE to patrol the frontline.

Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.

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