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One soldier killed, several wounded in eastern Ukraine, govt. claims

A picture taken on January 18, 2020 shows a Ukrainian serviceman at a position on the front line with pro-Russia forces, near the village of Zhelobok, Lugansk region, Ukraine. (By AFP)

At least one Ukrainian soldier has allegedly been killed and four others have been wounded in fierce clashes that erupted between government forces and armed pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine.

On Tuesday, government troopers came under artillery, mortar, and grenade fire in the vicinity of the villages of Novotoshkivka and Krymske, several kilometers from one of the three demilitarized zones from which both sides agreed to withdraw the previous year, the Ukraine’s military said in a statement.

Ukrainian military spokesman Dmytro Chalyi claimed that the pro-Russians used weapons that had been banned under a ceasefire agreement, adding, “This is one of the biggest escalations in the last few years.”

Later in the day, and in the wake of the intense fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the country’s military for its “strong and adequate response,” adding that the bloodshed was a “cynical provocation” that undermined fresh efforts to end the conflict.

He also said a national security meeting would be held to discuss the issue, expressing hope that a permanent ceasefire between the two sides would be brokered in the near future.

Separately on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said both sides in Ukraine had suffered casualties, but added that Moscow did not “know the details of what provoked the clash.”

Ukraine’s eastern industrial regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, collectively known as the Donbass, plunged into conflict after March 2014, when the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in southern Europe voted in a referendum in favor of joining Russia. The conflict, which saw Ukraine’s military trying to quell pro-Russia protests in the region, is believed to have killed around 13,000 people.

A ceasefire brokered in Belarus in the following year failed to stop the fighting.

The leader of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, claimed on Tuesday that Kiev was responsible for “bloody provocations” and “aggressive behavior.”

Comedian-turned-politician Zelensky came to power in May last year, seeking to establish dialog with Russian President Vladimir Putin and revive the peace process.

In December last year, Zelensky and Putin held their first summit, mediated by the leaders of France and Germany, in Paris, France. At the summit, the leaders agreed to revive accords signed in 2015 that call for the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the restoration of Kiev’s control over its borders, wider autonomy for Donetsk and Lugansk, and the holding of local elections.

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