Ukraine Reports Surge in Deadly Fighting with Pro-Russian Separatists

31 Jan

Ukraine Reports Surge in Deadly Fighting with Pro-Russian Separatists

Ukraine says at least seven people have been killed in a two-day outbreak of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and government troops in war weary eastern Ukraine.

Both sides blame the other for the latest violence, which the government said erupted Sunday on several fronts in the Russian-speaking east, including the rebel controlled bastion of Donetsk and other territory near the Russian border.

Kyiv accused rebels of sparking the clashes with tanks and Grad multiple grenade launchers.  Grad launchers are among the heavy caliber weapons that were to have been withdrawn from frontlines under terms of a 2015 truce that has dramatically reduced casualties in the contested region.

Water, electricity cut off by fighting

In Donetsk, rebel leaders seeking autonomy from Kyiv reported major damage to civilian infrastructure, and said water and electricity were cut to several outlying villages.

Nearly 10,000 people — more than half of them civilians — have been killed in fighting that erupted in April 2014, a month after Russia unilaterally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, and two months after lengthy pro-Western protests in Kyiv forced Ukraine’s pro-Russian president into exile.

Moscow has been repeatedly accused of arming and supplying the rebel force, and in 2015 was accused of sending Russian troops across the border and into battle.

Putin discounts allegations

Russian President Vladimir Putin discounted those allegations, and said any Russian troops found on Ukrainian soil were there as volunteers.

The 2014 annexation sparked widespread protests from Western governments and the United Nations, and led to a series of crippling economic and trade sanctions against Moscow by the West that remain in effect nearly three years later.

Ukraine has in recent weeks voiced increasing concern that international pressure on Russia could weaken under the leadership of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly voiced support for a thaw in U.S.- Russian relations.