Government troops, rebels exchange fire in eastern Ukraine

Kusum Tewari

Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists are blaming each other for an outbreak of fighting in the country’s rebel-held east

KYIV, Ukraine —
Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists blamed each other for an outbreak of fighting in the country’s rebel-held east on Tuesday.

Ukraine’s military said in a statement that the separatists attempted to advance into the Ukraine-controlled territory but were repelled. It said that one Ukrainian soldier was killed and four others were wounded.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy denounced the attack as a “cynical provocation.”

The separatist authorities in the Luhansk region, however, blamed Ukraine for starting the fighting. They claimed that the fighting erupted when a group of Ukrainian soldiers tried to make an incursion into rebel-held territory but got into a minefield.

The separatists said two Ukrainian troops were killed and three others were wounded and the Ukrainian forces launched an artillery barrage to cover their evacuation.

They said that Ukrainian shelling damaged civilian infrastructure in the villages of Kirovsk and Donetskiy.

The exchange of gunfire marks the latest spike in hostilities in the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed over 14,000 people since 2014.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped reduce the scope of fighting, but sporadic clashes have continued and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled.

During a meeting in Paris in December, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany made a deal to exchange prisoners and pledged to ensure a lasting cease-fire in fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists. They made no progress, however, on key contentious issues — a timeline for local elections in eastern Ukraine and when Ukraine can get back control of its borders in the rebel-held region.

Zelenskiy said on Facebook that Tuesday’s outbreak of hostilities was an attempt to derail efforts to end the conflict and said he would call a meeting of his Security Council to discuss the situation.

“Our course for ending the war and our adherence to international agreements remain unchanged, just as our determination to repel any acts of aggression against Ukraine,” he said.

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