6 killed in fight­ing as Rus­sia’s Putin says Ukraine seek­ing U.S. sup­port

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - INNA VARENYTSIA

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.

EVGENIY MALOLETKA, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A man stands in his house dam­aged by shelling in Avdiivka, east­ern Ukraine, Thurs­day.

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