DONETSK/ARTEMIVSK, Ukraine, (Reuters) – Ukraine’s rebels disavowed a new truce yesterday hours after it took effect, saying it did not apply to the town where most fighting has taken place in recent weeks.
Guns fell abruptly silent at midnight across much of eastern Ukraine in line with the ceasefire agreement, reached after a week of diplomacy led by France and Germany.
But pro-Russian rebels announced they would not observe the truce at Debaltseve, where Ukrainian army forces were encircled and Kiev military said rebel attacks on the town steadily increased from mid-afternoon yesterday.
“Of course we can open fire (on Debaltseve). It is our territory,” senior rebel commander Eduard Basurin told Reuters. “The territory is internal: ours. And internal is internal. But along the line of confrontation there is no shooting.”
A statement by the Kiev military yesterday said the “enemy” was carrying out attacks with varied types of weapons, including Grad rocket systems, and had a plan to try to seize Debaltseve from the west.
In a four-way telephone conversation with the leaders of Germany, France and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the position of the four at peace talks last week in Belarus had been for a ceasefire on all the front lines including at Debaltseve.
Poroshenko stressed that a withdrawal of military equipment and heavy weapons required a “full and unconditional” ceasefire under the Minsk agreement, his press service said.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, responsible for monitoring the ceasefire, said rebels had denied its observers access to Debaltseve.
Both sides blamed what firing there was on the enemy. But Debaltseve has been the focus of fighting for weeks, and it will be hard to speak of a truce if Ukrainian troops remain trapped there under fire, or the rebels press on with their advance.