Ukraine says fresh clashes with Russia-backed separatists in the country's east have claimed the lives of two of its soldiers, raising to six the number of Ukrainian troops reported killed this week and prompting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to urge Moscow to "rein in" the separatists.
The Defense Ministry said on June 7 that two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 10 were wounded after separatists opened fire with machine guns, anti-tank missiles, mortars, sniper rifles, and grenade launchers, violating a cease-fire 23 times in a 24-hour period.
In a statement, Zelenskiy said Russia had loosened its control over the separatists, whom he called "mercenaries."
"The blatant violation of the Minsk [cease-fire] agreements -- the use of artillery -- demonstrates at least the partial loss of control over the mercenaries. We hope that the Russian side will regain control over these units."
"Attacking Ukrainian armed forces is an obvious attempt to disrupt the cease-fire talks. No matter who gave the command [to attack], Ukrainian armed forces will respond in a tough manner to the situation," Zelenskiy said.
He reiterated Ukraine's position that there was a "need to preserve the cease-fire" and that its demands for the "release of the captured ones remain firm and unchangeable."
Since April 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed separatists who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords -- September 2014 and February 2015 pacts aimed at resolving the conflict -- have contributed to a decrease in fighting but have failed to hold.
A new cease-fire agreement was reached on March 8, but both sides have accused each other of repeated violations since then.