Berlin/Kiev (dpa) – Fighting escalated in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, only hours after German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the implementation of a three-day old ceasefire with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko.
The Russia-backed separatists said they had taken large parts of Debaltseve, the streategic rail hub where thousands of Ukrainian government soldiers had been encircled for days.
The separatists control the train station and eastern parts of the city, the rebel-run Donetsk News Agency quoted militia leaders as saying. The report claimed that many Ukrainian soldiers were either killed or gave themselves up.
Ukraine’s Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that heavy battles were ongoing at the railway station and the city’s outskirts. “Our soldiers are holding their positions,” he said in Kiev.
He said that five soldiers were killed and nine injured in fighting over the past 24 hours.
Lysenko also said that government forces regained control of the main road linking Debaltseve with government controlled districts.
He added that observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) could not get to Debaltseve because of the fighting.
The surge in violence comes three days after a ceasefire brokered by France and Germany officially took hold in eastern Ukraine.
The agreement stipulated that both parties must begin withdrawing heavy weapons two days after the ceasefire came into effect.
However, both Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of multiple violations and have said that they will only begin the withdrawal once the firing stops.