Fresh Shelling in Ukraine’s Donetsk Puts Ceasefire Under Strain

(Reuters) -

Fighting broke out again in Ukraine’s rebel-held city of Donetsk on Monday as President Petro Poroshenko prepared to unveil a risky plan to give the separatist-minded east “special status” in a bid to end a conflict that has killed over 3,000 people.

The renewed fighting in the east’s main industrial hub, following a weekend in which at least six people were killed and a team of international monitors shelled, put fresh strain on a 10-day-old ceasefire between government forces and Russian-backed separatists.

The truce started on Sept. 5 and had been broadly holding up before this weekend, despite sporadic violations.

But on Saturday there was particularly heavy fighting around Donetsk airport, which remains under government control, and shells hit a marketplace in the city, killing at least one woman, according to the OSCE.

By Monday evening, shelling and missile fire could be heard from the airport area, the railway station and Leninsky district near the center, a Reuters correspondent in Donetsk reported.

The rebels’ main leader in Donetsk, which had a pre-war population of about one million, accused Ukrainian forces on Monday of violating the truce repeatedly and suggested it could not hold much longer.

“I do not see the sense in (further) consultations. There have to be measures which must first be undertaken and then consultations can take place,” Alexander Zakharchenko told reporters in Donetsk.

Temporary Self-Rule

The fresh fighting flared as Poroshenko prepared to submit to parliament a draft law that local media said would grant temporary self-rule status to the “people’s republics” proclaimed by the separatists.

Poroshenko reluctantly agreed to the ceasefire after battlefield losses and heavy Ukrainian casualties which Kiev said were caused by Russian troops entering the fray on behalf of the rebels.

He hopes the law will counter criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is failing to address the grievances of the pro-Russian east —something which the Kremlin uses to justify its support for the rebels.

But Poroshenko risks falling afoul of Kiev’s pro-Western establishment if he is perceived as laying the ground for a new “frozen conflict” on Ukrainian territory, governed by a separatist leadership under Russian protection, similar to those in other ex-Soviet states such as Moldova and Georgia.

The draft, whose contents were leaked on Monday to local media, would grant self-rule to separatist-minded regions for a three-year period and allow them to “strengthen and deepen” relations with neighboring Russian regions.