UN calls for Ukraine ceasefire as clashes rage

The conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people since 2014, more than half of them civilians, and plunged Moscow's relations with the West to a post-Cold War low

  • Ukrainian servicemen drink a tea to warm up in the town of Avdiivka on February 1, 2017 as government forces and Russian-backed separatists exchanged mortar and rocket fire for a fourth day around the flashpoint eastern town of Avdiivka just north of the rebels' de facto capital Donetsk 
    Photo- AFP

The UN Security Council Tuesday called for an immediate return to a ceasefire in Ukraine where three days of fighting in a flashpoint town have left at least 19 dead and thousands of locals without power in freezing conditions.

Endorsing a Kiev-drafted statement that did not raise objections from Russia, members "expressed grave concern about the dangerous deterioration of the situation in eastern Ukraine and its severe impact on the local civilian population."

The Council's unanimous call came as Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels were locked in fighting for a third straight day in the flashpoint town of Avdiivka that has also sparked renewed EU concern about security in its backyard.

The industrial hub came under an unexpected assault Sunday from insurgents seeking to wrest back territory controlled by Kiev during the nearly three-year war.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko underscored the urgency of the situation by cutting short a visit to Berlin on Monday and convened an emergency meeting of his National Security and Defence Council.

Poroshenko is worried that Donald Trump's rise to the US presidency and praise for Russia's Vladimir Putin may add fuel to a conflict that began shortly after Ukraine's 2014 ouster of its Moscow-backed leader and tilt toward the West.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the Kremlin was "extremely worried" but had "reliable information" that renegade units of pro-Kiev fighters were in fact responsible for the initial attacks.

Global condemnation and concern

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE) is responsible for monitoring ceasefire violations and organising peace talks between envoys from Russia and Ukraine.

It helped negotiate a February 2014 truce deal in Minsk that was co-sponsored by Germany and France and which EU leaders cling on to as the one remaining roadmap to peace.

"The intense fighting around Avdiivka in the last few days... is a blatant violation of the ceasefire, as stipulated by the Minsk agreements," the EU foreign affairs arm said in a statement.

The OSCE said the fighting was "of grave concern" while the US embassy tweeted that it was especially worried about "the 2,500 children who are without water, electricity and heat".

Charge d'affaires Kate Byrnes of the US mission to the OSCE's Permanent Council said that "Russia and the separatists initiated the violence in Avdiivka". 

Washington was "deeply concerned" and called for an immediate ceasefire "to avert a larger humanitarian crisis", State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people since 2014, more than half of them civilians, and plunged Moscow's relations with the West to a post-Cold War low.

The Kremlin denies backing the insurgents and only admits that Russian "volunteers" and off-duty soldiers have entered the warzone of their own free will.

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