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20th Jan 2018

Artillery fire increases after EU-Ukraine summit

  • 15-year old Natasha Komachko, an IDP from Makiivka, lives in a small flat in Kramatorsk with her six younger siblings and parents (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

People fleeing a city deep inside Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region are reporting heavy shelling and artillery fire.

A mother and her three-year old adopted son told an aid worker at the Caritas charity on Tuesday (28 April) that shells are landing in Gorlovka “every 15 minutes”.

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They left their homes two days ago and headed to Kramatorsk, an industrial city some 100 km away from the frontline on the Ukraine side.

The mother declined to speak to EUobserver, but Titania Lugovia, the Caritas aid worker who is handling their case, said streams of people have been arriving from Gorlovka to Kramatorsk in the past week.

“People in Gorlovka say there is no ceasefire. Artillery is being fired every fifteen minutes,” she said.

Gorlovka was under siege last summer, with fighting flaring up again from early January to February.

Fighting de-escalated after the leaders of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine met in Minsk in mid-February and agreed to an immediate and full ceasefire in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

The terms included a withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides to equal distance.

But the latest events follows reports of heavy artillery in the area around the rebelled held Donetsk airport from the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.

Monitors said they heard a total of 550 explosions, primarily by 120mm mortar and heavy artillery rounds, in the past three days.

“The security situation in the area around Donetsk airport (“Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled, 11km north-west of Donetsk) has seriously deteriorated,” said the OSCE in a statement released late on Tuesday.

The unfolding drama in the east occurred around the same time EU leaders in Kiev on Monday announced more money and support for a government that is hated by the self-proclaimed and Russian-backed Donetsk People's Republic.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk said full implementation of the Minsk agreements remains the best chance to move towards a political solution.

"We continue to monitor the ceasefire closely," he said.

But Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, told European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker that he fears Russia is preparing a large new assault.

“They were explaining in the more private meetings we had, they are highly alerted about Russia - more alerted than I thought they would be … because they are considering that Russia is preparing a broad attack on the Ukrainian territory”, he told the Wall Street Journal and other media on his plane back to Brussels.

Meanwhile, Alexander, a miner from Gorlovka, said relatives told him shelling has also increased and that rebel tanks are parked in the city’s centre.

The 44-year old fled his home town along with his wife and 14-year old son to Kramatorsk after fighting intensified in the lead up to the February ceasefire agreement.

“People with political views like mine are being persecuted,” he said.

Alexander, whose last name can’t be revealed to protect his identity, is an outspoken critic of the separatists.

He said he had seen Russian soldiers in Gorlovka when the battle kicked off in early January.

“They are better equipped, are more modern. They look and speak differently,” he said of the Russians in comparison to the separatists.

The family arrived in Kramatorsk around the same time rebels sent Smerch BM-30 300mm rockets smashing into the city on 11 February.

Father Vasyl Ivaniuk, a former soldier turned Greek Catholic priest who runs the Caritas operation in Kramatorsk, said the Smerch rockets killed 37 people.

The charity is helping people like Alexander and his family with food, clothes, and other needs.

“Finding people jobs is the biggest challenge,” said Father Ivaniuk.

Kramatorsk has a population of around 200,000 and has registered some 47,000 internally displaced people.

Registered IDPs are entitled to small monthly government stipends to help pay for utilities and other expenses.

Father Ivaniuk says most of Kramatorsk’s 32 factories have shut down production following sanctions against Russia, their main trading partner.

“If Europe would buy from us then we could start the factories again and employ the locals and the IDPs,” he said.

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