SHAFAQNA – At least 13 people have been killed in the latest outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine as a three-week old ceasefire comes under increasing danger of collapse.
Ukraine’s military said at midday on Monday that nine of its servicemen had died and 27 were wounded in the previous 24 hours.
Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s “antiterrorist operation”, told reporters in Kiev the casualties followed clashes with pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk airport and the town of Debaltseve.
Meanwhile, city authorities in Donetsk, the rebels’ capital, said that at least three civilians died and five were wounded on Sunday after shells fell in residential areas, hitting homes and “administrative buildings”.
Another local person died in Makiyivka, a city just northeast of Donetsk, when a shell hit a residential house, officials said.
Ukrainian government troops have been fighting Russian-backed militia in eastern Ukraine since April, when separatists proclaimed the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics”.
A ceasefire between the two sides and representatives of Russia and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe was signed in Minsk, Belarus, on September 5.
Under a second agreement reached a fortnight later, the two sides are supposed to have pulled back from the frontline to create a 30km (19-mile) buffer zone.
On Friday, the Ukrainian military said it had met counterparts from the Russian army in the conflict zone to discuss the withdrawal, although Moscow denied that meeting had taken place.
The Kremlin admits that Russian volunteer fighters have been allowed to cross into Ukraine to fight but denies its own regular forces are fighting there, despite numerous reports to the contrary.
The Telegraph witnessed a column of armoured personnel carriers crossing from Russia into Ukraine last month and ten Russian paratroopers were captured in the war zone.
Reporters have also photographed the graves of soldiers who were brought back to Russian towns for burial.
Elena Vasilyeva, a rights activist who runs a Facebook group collecting data on the deaths of Russian servicemen in Ukraine, claimed on Monday that about 300 Russian soldiers had been killed there and 4,000 were missing.
Kiev has offered “special status” to settlements in the area carved out by the rebels, which would provide concessions such as police units to be formed from local militia but the separatists have largely rejected the proposals.