Kiev and Moscow trade blame over fatal surge in Ukraine war

Fierce clashes leave eight dead and 25 hurt in east Ukraine as power and water shut down

Kiev and Moscow have blamed each other for fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed at least eight government troops, injured more than 25 and cut power and water to hundreds of thousands of people during freezing weather.

The heaviest shelling in weeks between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists began over the weekend and continued into Tuesday, prompting Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, to cut short a visit to Germany.

The latest escalation in a conflict that has ground on for almost three years, killing about 10,000 people and displacing well over one million, comes as the Kremlin hopes new US president Donald Trump will lift economic sanctions on Russia and encourage the EU to follow suit as part of an east-west rapprochement.

The most intense clashes have centred on the government-controlled town of Avdiivka, the nearby separatist-held town of Yasynuvata and the devastated former international airport outside the militant stronghold of Donetsk city.


Ukraine’s foreign ministry said “occupying Russian forces carried out massive attacks across the contact line using all available weapons”, including heavy multiple rocket systems and tanks.

Ukrainian officials said at least eight soldiers had been killed and 26 servicemen and two civilians injured.

“Shelling fully cut off electricity from the cities of Yasynuvata and Avdiivka. More than 400,000 civilians in the region have no access to water, electricity and heating. Given the harsh weather conditions and continued shelling by militants, the humanitarian situation in the area continues to deteriorate,” the ministry said.

Power lines cut

More than 200 coalminers were trapped underground in separatist-held territory after power lines were damaged, but all returned safely to the surface after several hours.

Kiev accused Russia of showing "continued blatant disregard of its commitments" under a plan agreed in 2015 in Minsk, Belarus, to try to bring peace to the poor and heavily industrial region of eastern Ukraine known as Donbas.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry urged its “international partners to step up political and diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin to stop dangerous escalation in Donbas and avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in the region”.

The Kremlin denies involvement in the conflict, describing Russian fighters in Donbas as “volunteers”, but it has failed to explain the militants’ constant access to high-tech Russian weapons and the documented presence of Russian servicemen there.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Ukrainian "paramilitary units tried to storm territory controlled by the (self-proclaimed) republics of Donbas".

“This attack was halted. We deeply regret that as a result of this attack against the Donbas rebels, people on both sides died,” he added.

Ertugrul Apakan, head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s monitoring mission in Ukraine, said the escalation “is of grave concern, with the civilian population greatly suffering”.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe