Renewed fighting threatens shaky Ukraine cease-fire, civilian killed

By Amelie Herenstein and Laetitia Peron ,AFP

MARIUPOL/DONETSK, Ukraine — Heavy fighting around flashpoint cities in eastern Ukraine on Sunday threatened the collapse of a tenuous truce between government forces and pro-Russian rebels less than 48 hours after it came into force. Insurgent militias bombarded a government-held checkpoint on the eastern edge of the port city of Mariupol overnight, local officials said, killing one woman and triggering panic among terrified residents. Artillery fire was also heard near the airport of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk, AFP correspondents said, although the source of the attacks was not immediately clear. The violence erupted just hours after a phone call between Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who agreed that the cease-fire was “generally being observed.”

“I’m frightened, one 46-year-old Mariupol resident who gave her name only as Victoria told AFP. “I want peace but I think this cease-fire is finished, this is the third night we haven’t been able to sleep.” Mariupol city hall said one woman had died in the shelling, the first reported death since the cease-fire, and three residents were wounded. The 12-point pact signed Friday was the first to gain the backing of both Kiev and Moscow after five months of fighting that set off the deepest crisis in East-West relations for a generation.

It was drawn up after the rebels — reportedly backed by large numbers of Russian troops and firepower — launched a lightning counter-offensive across the southeast in late August that dramatically reversed recent gains by the Ukrainian army. Mariupol became the latest battleground when the insurgents pushed southwards in what was seen as a drive to carve out a land corridor between the Russian border and the strategic Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in March.