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Deadly Clashes In Ukraine Despite Holiday Truce

Fighting in Novhorodske, in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, on December 22.

Ukraine's military said on December 27 that one of its soldiers and an elderly woman were killed in fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists despite a holiday truce between the warring sides.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said its observers came under fire the same day near Ukraine's government-held port city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters that separatists attacked Kyiv's forces with light weapons, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortar launchers, and a tank in fighting centered in the village of Zaitseve, some 55 kilometers north of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk.

"Over the past 24 Ukrainian soldier was killed and another three were wounded," Motuzyanyk said.

The two sides have accused one another of violating a December 23 cease-fire set to extend through the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Motuzyanyk added that an elderly woman also died from shrapnel wounds sustained in shelling in Zaitseve, which Ukrainian forces partly control.


A separatist leader, Eduard Basurin, said his forces did not sustain any casualties but that two civilians -- a man and a woman -- died as a result of the fighting.

It was not immediately clear whether Basurin was referring to the same woman the Ukrainian military reported had died.

The two sides traded accusations of responsibility for the clashes in the village.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people -- most of them civilians -- have died since the conflict in eastern Ukraine began in April 2014 following Russia's seizure and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula.

Kyiv, the United States, the EU, and NATO accuse Russia of providing weapons, personnel, and cash to the separatists, allegations Moscow denies despite significant evidence of such support.

A shaky cease-fire has been in place since a February peace deal brokered in Minsk, though sporadic hostilities have continued.

Some 220 kilometers south of the deadly weekend clashes, a team of OSCE observers came under small-arms fire while inspecting a village 12 kilometers northeast of Mariupol, a strategically important city on the Sea of Azov, the Vienna-based security organization said.

There were no reports of injuries in the December 27 incident in the village of Kominternove, and the OSCE said in a statement that the observers quickly left the area.

Basurin was quoted by the separatist news site DAN as saying that Kyiv's forces appeared to be responsible for firing on the observers.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied that its soldiers fired any shots in the area where the OSCE team was located, calling Basurin's claim a “provocation” aimed at discouraging the observers from inspecting Kominternove.

With reporting by AFP, AP, Interfax, TASS, and RIA Novosti
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