6 Killed In Ukraine; Putin Says Ukraine Seeking U.S. Support

Ukrainian tanks stand in the yard of an apartment block in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Heavy fighting around government-held Avdiivka, just north of the rebel-stronghold city of Donetsk, began over the weekend and persisted into early Wednesday. The Contact Group called for the opposing sides to cease fire and urged them to pull back their heavy weapons by the end of the week. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

AVDIIVKA, Ukraine — Salvos of artillery shook eastern Ukraine on Thursday, the fifth day of escalated fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatist rebels. Two Ukrainian troops were killed overnight and 10 others wounded, the government said, while rebels said one of their fighters was killed.

Shelling appeared to intensify after nightfall and both sides reported civilian deaths — two in Avdiivka and one in Donetsk city.

Reporters for The Associated Press heard Grad rocket launchers fired on both sides of the conflict during the night. In the afternoon, shelling was heard in the distance from Avdiivka, a government-held town just north of Donetsk, the largest rebel-controlled city.

At least 15 people have been reported killed since the fighting around Avdiivka surged over the weekend.

More than 9,700 people have been killed since the war with separatist rebels began in April 2014. An agreement reached nearly two years ago called for a cease-fire and a pullback of heavy weaponry by both sides, but skirmishes persist.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused Ukraine of starting the latest escalation to rally support from the new U.S. administration and other Western powers.

Ukraine is concerned that President Donald Trump could roll back some sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, and that European Union members could follow suit.

“The Ukrainian leadership needs money, and the best way to get the EU, the U.S. and international organizations to pay is by posing as a victim of aggression,” Putin said in Budapest after a meeting with Hungarian President Viktor Orban.

Shelling over the weekend damaged water, heating and electricity supplies in Avdiivka amid a strong cold snap. Residents’ nerves were raw.

“I was born in 1941. I was in a war at birth and now I see it again,” said Valentina Pasternak, as she stood on her porch clutching two loaves of bread brought by aid workers. A shell had landed in her yard.

By Thursday, water and heat had been partly restored, but Avdiivka remained without electricity.

In Brussels, European Union President Donald Tusk urged Moscow to pressure the separatists to make sure the flare-up of fighting ends and a cease-fire is restored.

“Russia should use its influence to disengage the Russia-backed separatists,” Tusk said.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, maintained a low-key approach with a restrained tone that may reflect the start of a new U.S. approach to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

By INNA VARENYTSIA – Feb. 2, 2017 4:03 PM ESTAP

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Nataliya Vasilyeva and Jim Heintz in Moscow, Raf Casert in Valletta, Malta, and Vladimir Isachenkov in Budapest contributed to this report.

 
 

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