Ukraine accused Russian-backed military on Monday of carrying out the heaviest artillery attacks on government positions in six months and warned of signs the conflict was escalating despite a ceasefire deal, Reuters reports.
Pro-Russian separatists violated a truce 127 times in the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian side states.
Ukraine said 400 separatist fighters supported by tanks had attacked government forces around the village of Starohnativka, 50 km (30 miles) north of the Kyiv-held port city of Mariupol. The representatives of the unrecognised Donetsk and Luhansk republics denied attacking government troops.
“Our main fire positions stay as they were. Yet we control these heights in order to protect ourselves from sudden attacks of this kind,” Vladyslav Selezniov, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff, told Interfax-Ukraine. The separatists retreated towards Bila Kamianka, he added.
Control of Mariupol could help the rebels form a corridor to the Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
A ceasefire deal, signed in mid-February, has failed to stem the violence in the eastern conflict zone. Both sides regularly accuse the other of violating the terms of the peace agreement and casualties are reported almost daily.
“This brazen attack by the occupiers took place against a background of an escalating situation in east Ukraine,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said, describing rebel shelling in the past 24 hours as the heaviest since a battle for the town of Debaltseve in February.
One Ukrainian servicemen was killed, one was missing in action and 16 were wounded in the past 24 hours, Lysenko said.
Russian-backed militants have used ‘Grads’ multiple-launch rocket systems over 135 times since March, 2015, Head of the Ukrainian part of the Joint Center for Control and Coordination of the ceasefire General Borys Kremenetsky believes.