Fierce fighting surged Friday in eastern Ukraine as Russian-backed separatists mounted a major, sustained offensive to capture a strategic railway hub ahead of a weekend ceasefire deadline. At least 25 people were killed across the region, officials reported.
Clashes appeared only to have increased since a peace agreement was sealed Thursday in the Belarusian capital of Minsk by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautiously described the cease-fire that takes effect early Sunday deal as “a glimmer of hope.’’
But the pending cease-fire only appeared to spark a last-minute grab for territory that left at least 25 people dead. The government-held railway town of Debaltseve was on the receiving end of dozens of artillery and rocket salvos in the 24-hour period following the Minsk talks, Ukrainian military officials said.
Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Friday that 11 soldiers were killed and 40 wounded over the previous day in eastern Ukraine. Regional authorities loyal to Kiev reported at least seven civilian deaths, while rebels said seven others were killed in artillery attacks on the separatist-held cities of Luhansk and Horlivka.
Associated Press reporters on Friday observed intense shelling along the highway north of Debaltseve, which remains the town’s only land link with the rest of government-controlled territory.
The deadline for the warring sides to halt hostilities is Sunday morning, at one minute after midnight. Reportedly, separatist forces had been given the task of hoisting their flags over Debaltseve as well as Mariupol, by Sunday. AP