2 Ukrainian troops killed in fighting in the east

2 Ukrainian troops killed in fighting in the east

AVDIIVKA, Ukraine — Two Ukrainian troops have been killed in the country’s industrial east as both government forces and rebels reported shelling on their positions overnight, Ukraine’s government said early Thursday.

Ten other troops were wounded as fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland entered its fifth day, the Ukrainian government’s press office for the military operation in the east said.

In rebel stronghold Donetsk, self-proclaimed authorities said two civilians were injured Wednesday evening when projectiles hit their houses in Donetsk’s north.

Associated Press reporters on both sides of the conflict, which has been raging since 2014, heard salvos of Grad multiple grenade launchers during the night. Both Russia-backed separatist rebels and the Ukrainian government in 2015 committed to cease fire and withdraw heavy weaponry including Grads.

At least 10 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since Monday and dozens wounded including civilians on both sides of the front line.

Shelling over the weekend damaged water, heating and power supply to government-controlled factory town of Avdiivka, the epicenter of fighting, amid a strong cold snap.

By Thursday, the water supply and heating in the town, which is just miles away from Donetsk, has been partly restored. Avdiivka, however, remains without electricity as workers can’t access the areas where the power lines were cut because of sustained fighting.

Sounds of shelling were heard in Avdiivka in the early afternoon although fighting appeared to be less intense than in previous days. The aftermath of last night’s shelling was visible on the streets, some houses displaying damage from projectiles that landed there.

Rebel mouthpiece Donetsk News Agency quoted military spokesman Eduard Basurin as saying that one rebel fighter was killed and another was wounded in the past 24 hours.

In Brussels, European Union President Donald Tusk urged Moscow to lean on the separatists to make sure the flare-up in fighting ends and that a cease-fire is restored.

“Russia should use its influence to disengage the Russia-backed separatists,” Tusk said in a statement.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, maintained a low-key approach — a restrained tone may reflect the start of a new U.S. approach to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The Ukrainian government, concerned that the new U.S. administration might take a comparatively soft line on Russia, could point to the escalation as evidence that Russia can’t be trusted

Separatist rebels have been fighting government troops and volunteer brigades in eastern Ukraine since April 2014 in clashes that have killed more than 9,700 people. The peace deal signed in February 2015 called for a cease-fire, for heavy weapons to be pulled back from the front lines and for a political resolution of the conflict. The agreement has been observed only fitfully and skirmishes and artillery fire have persisted.

What sparked the recent escalation is unclear, although Ukraine’s military has acknowledged that its troops have gained some ground around Avdiivka.

___

Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, and Raf Casert in Valletta, Malta, contributed to this report.

Inna Varenytsia, The Associated Press

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