6 killed in fighting as Russia’s Putin says Ukraine seeking U.S. support
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.
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 ceasefire 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 United States administration and other Western powers.
Ukraine is concerned that U.S. 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 Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Later Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley condemned Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine and warned Moscow that U.S. sanctions imposed after its annexation of Crimea will remain until the peninsula is returned to Ukraine.
The new American envoy said it was “unfortunate” that she had to condemn Russia in her first appearance at the UN Security Council, saying “we do want to better our relations with Russia.”
But Haley said “the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.”
Shelling over the weekend damaged water, heating and electricity supplies in Avdiivka amid a severe 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.
A man stands in his house damaged by shelling in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine, Thursday.