Clashes Rage In Ukrainian Town, Making Mockery Of Truce

SHYROKYNE, Ukraine (AP) -

To reach rear-guard government positions in the seaside town of Shyrokyne, Ukrainian soldiers gingerly wind their off-roaders through private gardens hugging a precipice along the Azov Sea.

The truce announced in mid-February has never taken here, so traveling by the main roads is too dangerous.

Government and Russian-backed separatist forces face off in daily gun and artillery battles across an unseen line cutting through the town. The skirmishes are fierce, but contained — for now.

Still, the enduring unrest arouses deep anxieties that a conflict which has already claimed more than 6,000 lives in eastern Ukraine could flare up again across the entire 280-mile front line.

Shyrokyne itself is not much of a prize. It is the industrial port city of Mariupol, 6 miles further west, that Ukrainian forces want to defend from the rebels at all costs.

Residents and government troops alike believe the separatists’ ultimate aim is to take Mariupol — and eventually create a land bridge between Russia and Crimea, which Russia annexed last March.

Crimea has no physical link to Russian territory now and a bridge being discussed is years away from completion.