New Bloodshed in Ukraine Rattles Shaky Ceasefire

Last weekend saw eastern Ukraine descend back into shocking violence. During 24 hours of fighting that began on Sunday and lasted into Monday a total of ten people we killed, the highest single-day death toll in more than a month. Separatists fired upon Sartana – a suburb of the government-held port city of Mariupol – with howitzers, killing two soldiers and two cilivilians and wounding seven others, according to government reports. Ukrainian army forces for their part shelled the rebel-controlled cities of Horlivka and Donetsk. The pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency reported that six people were killed by government forces.

The violence represents one of the largest violations of a ceasefire reached earlier this year. The February agreement signed between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists resulted in large amounts of tanks, anti-aircraft guns and other heavy equipment being moved back from the frontlines, but it hasn’t stopped the guns from firing. Bodies continue to pile up, and the Ukrainian government claims that separatists have violated the ceasefire no less than 140 times during the past six months.

The death toll adds to the more than 6,800 people killed by fighting in Ukraine since April 2014. The flare-up has fueled concerns that the shaky February ceasefire could collapse altogether. Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko interpreted the attack as part of what could be a broad separatist push toward Mariupol, commenting that “what has happened in Sartana is a challenge to our forces.” In addition, Lysenko made clear that Sartana is a “civilian town” with no military installations.

Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the pro-Kremlin Donetsk People’s Republic, said that government forces fired first and claimed that Kiev is preparing a renewed offensive to retake separatist-controlled territory. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov echoed that claim, saying that “we are worried by the developments in recent days, which strongly recall preparation for more military actions.”

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed concern but took pains to use language inoffensive to the Kremlin, commenting in an interview with Bild am Sonntag that “if both parties do not adhere to the peace process, the military situation could escalate again at any time.”

Joseph Larsen

20 August 2015 19:47