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Fighting For Debaltseve Persists Despite Ukraine Truce Call

  • RFE/RL

An elderly Ukrainian man is helped by a Ukrainian Army soldier and a citizen during the evacuation of civilians in Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, on February 3.

An elderly Ukrainian man is helped by a Ukrainian Army soldier and a citizen during the evacuation of civilians in Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, on February 3.

Fighting for control of the eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve continued despite a call by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for a cease-fire to allow for the evacuation of civilians facing a "catastrophic" situation in the besieged transport hub.

The Ukrainian military said on February 4 that rebels had used "all kinds of weapons" in nine attacks on its positions near Debaltseve overnight, but had failed to dislodge government forces.

It said fighting in the area persisted for more than four hours, until about 3 a.m.

Separately, military spokesman Vyacheslav Seleznyov said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 18 were wounded in the previous 24 hours across eastern Ukraine, where the conflict has killed more than 5,350 people since April.

A separatist spokesman said four people were killed in and around the rebel-held provincial capital of Donetsk overnight.

The Debaltseve area has been the scene of fierce fighting for more than two weeks between Ukrainian government forces who hold the strategic transport junction and separatists who control most of the territory surrounding it.

The current chairman of the OSCE, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, called on February 3 for an immediate cease-fire in Debaltseve that would last at least three days.

Amnesty International released a statement on February 3 calling the situation in Debaltseve "catastrophic," with thousands of residents "desperately sheltering from heavy shelling" and in need of running water, food, electricity, and basic medical supplies.

Dacic said the truce should be used first to evacuate noncombatants from the area but should also lead to "the immediate resumption of consultations with the aim of securing a sustainable cease-fire."

A 12-point agreement on a cease-fire and steps toward peace was signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on September 5, but it has been violated daily and diplomatic efforts have failed to stop an escalation in fighting that the UN says killed more than 242 civilians in January.

On February 3, UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Raad al-Hussein urged all sides to stop fighting, saying "further escalation will prove catastrophic for the 5.2 million people living in the midst of conflict in eastern Ukraine."

He said the estimate of at least 5,358 people killed and 12,235 wounded in the conflict since mid-April was "conservative" and that UN agencies believe the actual number of deaths is "considerably higher."

The conflict, which erupted after Russia illegally seized control of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March, has driven ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

Kyiv and the West accuse Moscow of arming, training, and aiding the rebels by sending troops to fight alongside them in eastern Ukraine, where they hold large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

Fighting subsided somewhat in December but reignited around January 10, and peace talks in Minsk on January 31 quickly fell apart amid what the United States has called a "Russian-backed offensive" by the rebels.

With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, and AP
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