Clashes between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed rebels left seven more people dead in Ukraine on Friday, in escalating violence that European monitors say could lead to a humanitarian disaster.
A surge in fighting in Ukraine that started on January 29 has now killed 34 people, according to reports from both sides.
The Ukrainian army said the latest victims were a local woman and an emergency worker in the government-held town of Avdiivka. The toll in the blue-collar town where a giant coking plant employs almost the entire population of 25,000 people now stands at 27.
Ukrainian authorities said that three soldiers had also been killed in other parts of eastern Ukraine, in which the pro-Russian insurgency has raged since April 2014.
The separatist rebels also said that shelling by the Ukrainian army had reportedly killed two civilians in Donetsk.
What’s behind the fighting?
Kiev and the Kremlin accuse one another of instigating the latest flare-up between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, reports Gulliver Cragg, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Avdiivka.
“The Russians say this is the Ukrainians provoking the separatists in order to have a flare-up of violence that would boost their arguments that sanctions against Russia by the international community should not be lifted,” Cragg told FRANCE 24.
Since January 29, shelling on both sides of the front line near Avdiivka has been heavier than at any time since last summer. The renewed fighting threatens to unravel a peace agreement signed between the two sides in Minsk in February 2015.
The Kremlin may also be feeling out the international reaction to renewed Russian aggression in Ukraine, Cragg reported.
“There’s all sorts of speculation about the wider geo-political context,” FRANCE 24's Cragg said. “Some people, especially on the Ukrainian side of course, are saying that this is Putin trying to test [US president] Donald Trump trying to test what will be the US reaction.”
‘Potential humanitarian and ecological disaster’
Alexander Hug, deputy head of the ceasefire monitoring mission in Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Europe's leading security and human rights watchdog, warned that an end to the fragile peace agreement could have a grave human and environmental toll.
"We have had many flare-ups before … Now however the stakes are even higher, there is a potential humanitarian and ecological disaster about to unfold," Hug said in a briefing via video link from eastern Ukraine. Monitors for the OSCE had recorded an "unprecedented" 11,000 explosions on Tuesday.
Civilians in both government- and separatist-held territory are especially at risk because damage to utilities infrastructure has left thousands with little or no access to electricity or water amidst sub-zero winter cold. Persistent fighting has hampered repair efforts.
The UN human rights office warned of environmental danger posed by possible acid leaks from a phenol plant near the village of Novhorodske, where the two sides' combatants are only 400 meters apart.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-02-04