Battle Persists for Ukraine Railway Hub, Despite Peace Deal

LUHANSKE, Ukraine (AP) -

Intense artillery exchanges between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists persisted Monday around a strategic town in eastern Ukraine — fighting that threatens to dash a ceasefire deal brokered by European leaders last week.

Under the ceasefire agreement negotiated by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, the warring sides are to begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line Tuesday. That plan already looks at risk, with the rebels saying they are not satisfied that conditions are in place for the process to go ahead.

Speaking by telephone Monday night, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko expressed concerns about the continued fighting at Debaltseve and “also expressed the wish that the OSCE observers have a free access to continue their work on the ground,” an official in Hollande’s entourage said. The official spoke anonymously because they were not allowed to speak publicly.

Despite the ceasefire that went into effect early Sunday morning, five Ukrainian troops were killed and 25 were wounded in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Monday.