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Fighting Persists In Eastern Ukraine Despite Cease-Fire

Pro-Russian separatists ride on a tank in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on February 15.
Pro-Russian separatists ride on a tank in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on February 15.

Kyiv says Ukrainian forces have been fired on 112 times by Russia-backed separatists in the past 24 hours, despite a cease-fire agreement that came into force on February 15.

Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said on February 16 that Ukraine was "fully observing" the cease-fire, but he accused "terrorists from Donetsk and Luhansk" of staging "artillery attacks, mortar attacks, and Grad [rocket systems] strikes."

A Ukrainian military spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying five service personnel had been killed and 25 wounded since the cease-fire took effect.

Fighting still persists around the key government-held town of Debaltseve, and both Kyiv and the separatists accuse one another of violating the cease-fire.

Both sides said they would not begin pulling back heavy weapons from the front line because of the continued attacks.

Pulling back tanks, artillery, and rockets from the front line in Ukraine's east is scheduled to take place over three weeks beginning at midnight, local time, on February 17 as the second phase of the truce signed in Minsk last week.

Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said there was "no question" at the moment of Ukraine withdrawing its heavy arms to create a buffer zone that was intended to stretch up to 140 kilometers.

In Donetsk, Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the defense ministry of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said: "If the Ukrainian Army does not stop shooting and violating the Minsk agreement, then the forces of the Donetsk People's Republic will not withdraw their arms."

Meanwhile, in Brussels the European Union added two Russian deputy defense ministers and two lawmakers -- along with 15 separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk -- to its travel-ban and asset-freeze blacklist for "undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine."

The list now includes 151 individuals and 37 entities in Ukraine and Russia.

Moscow swiftly reacted to the announcement on February 16, saying the EU had contradicted "common sense" by imposing new sanctions one day after the start of a cease-fire in the conflict between Kiev and Russian-backed rebels.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Moscow will respond to the extended sanctions list "adequately."

The cease-fire was negotiated by Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France to put an end to the conflict that has claimed nearly 5,500 lives over the past 10 months.

Russia: 300,000 Ukrainians Seek Asylum

Meanwhile, an official of the Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) says almost 300,000 Ukrainian citizens have asked Russia either for temporary asylum or a refugee status.

FMS Naturalization Department head Valentina Kazakova said on February 16 that more than 260,000 Ukrainian citizens had already received either asylum or refugee status.

It is not possible to verify the Russian government's figures, and the Ukrainian government has not commented.

Kazakova added that more than 900,000 refugees who fled the military conflict between the Ukrainian Army and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine were currently in Russia.

According to Kazakova, some 70,000 Ukrainians applied for Russian citizenship in 2014.

Kazakova declined to comment on whether former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had applied for Russian citizenship, saying the law did not allow her to discuss people's personal data without their consent.

Yanukovych has been in Russia since he fled pro-European protests in February 2014.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS

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