- Tensions between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists are rising.
- West disputes Russian statements of withdrawal from across Ukraine.
- Russia says more equipment is being withdrawn.
KADIIVKA: Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces exchanged allegations on Thursday that each had fired over the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, raising the alarm at a time when western countries have been warning of the possibility of a Russian invasion every day.
Moscow, which has gathered more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, has denied it plans to invade its neighbor and said this week it was withdrawing some troops. The West disputes that there has been a significant withdrawal, and the United States said thousands more troops arrived.
It was not immediately possible to determine whether the reports of shelling along the front lines amounted to an escalation, or fit a pattern of ceasefire violations routine during a conflict entering its eighth year.
Western countries have repeatedly accused Russia of planning to use an incident in the rebel-held territories to justify an attack, while Moscow, for its part, has accused Kiev of planning an escalation to try to forcibly attack territory. recapture.
Contrary to Russia’s claims of its withdrawal, a senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration said up to 7,000 additional troops had been drawn to the border in recent days, including some arriving Wednesday.
The Russian Defense Ministry has released a video showing more departing units. Maxar Technologies, a privately held US company tracking the build-up, said satellite images showed that as Russia withdrew some military equipment away from Ukraine, other hardware has arrived.
A Reuters photographer in the town of Kadiivka in Ukraine’s rebel-controlled Luhansk region heard the sound of artillery fire from the direction of the contact line, but was unable to pinpoint the details of the incident.
The separatists accused government forces of firing into their territory four times in the past 24 hours. Kiev accused the rebels of firing grenades, including some that hit a kindergarten, leaving two civilians with shrapnel.
A diplomatic source said a long-term monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe registered multiple shelling along the line of contact in the early hours of Thursday.
Since a ceasefire in 2015 ended major fighting in the separatist conflict, the OSCE has typically reported dozens of ceasefire violations every day, with significant shelling or clashes resulting in injuries several times a month. or lead to death.
The self-declared People’s Republic of Luhansk, one of the two rebel regions, said Ukrainian forces had used mortars, grenade launchers and a machine gun in four separate incidents on Thursday.
“Ukraine’s armed forces have grossly violated the ceasefire regime using heavy weapons, which are to be revoked under the Minsk accords,” the separatists said in a statement.
Referring to the rebels, the Ukrainian army said: “With particular cynicism, the Russian occupation forces shelled the village of Stanytsa Lugansk in the Luhansk region. As a result of the use of heavy artillery weapons by terrorists, grenades hit the kindergarten building. Preliminary data, two civilians received shell shock. “
Russia denies planning an invasion of Ukraine, but says it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless a series of demands are met, including a pledge never to admit Kiev into the NATO alliance.
The West has rejected key Russian demands but has proposed talks on arms control and other issues. The United States and Europe have threatened sanctions if Russia invades, which Moscow has largely rejected.