Separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine have reportedly resumed firing rockets against government forces, in what could be a major blow to a fragile cease-fire.
Ukrainian military officials said in a statement that pro-Russian rebels fired unguided Grad rockets Monday evening at the government-held town of Avdiivka, reports The Associated Press. Avdiivka lies on the outskirts of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
The reported use of rocket launchers – which should have been withdrawn under the February ceasefire – comes amid a recent uptick in fighting in the country’s east. On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned that the risk of the region falling into a full-blown war remains a continuous possibility.
"The threat of war is still hanging over us. It is our reality,” President Poroshenko said at an investor conference in Kiev, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency. “War may erupt at any moment, but we are prepared to do everything we can to erase any possibility to doubt or retreat.”
While fighting in parts of eastern Ukraine never completely subsided after the both sides signed an agreement in the Belarusian capital of Minsk in February, clashes appear to have intensified in recent days. The Minsk agreement requires both sides to pull back heavy arms more than 30 miles from the front line.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is responsible for monitoring the conflict, said Monday that rebels have prevented it from visiting a location where heavy arms have allegedly been deployed. AP reports:
For the third time in four days, the rebels have prevented the mission "from freely accessing the eastern part of Shyrokyne," the OSCE said in statement.
Shyrokyne lies directly on the front line and is a short distance east of the key industrial port city of Mariupol, which is in government hands …
The OSCE has said the clashes it saw Sunday in Shyrokyne were the worst it had seen since fighting began in the area in mid-February.
The mission said it observed dozens of tank shots and the deployment of plenty of other weapons proscribed under the peace deal.
On Monday, European Union leaders said at a summit meeting in Kiev that while they were worried about cease-fire violations in the east of the country, they would not send armed peacekeepers there as requested by Poroshenko.
"We can only talk about a civilian mission, not military," said European Council President Donald Tusk, according to the BBC. Instead, EU officials said they could envision some kind of border advisory mission.
Meanwhile, Poroshenko said Ukraine would be able to meet the conditions to apply for membership in the EU within five years.
Integration with Europe has remained a top priority for many Ukrainians since protesters ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych last year. Mr. Yanukovych, who fled to Russia, sparked outrage by canceling plans to deepen trade ties with the 28-member bloc.
Efforts to restore the Ukrainian economy have been slow amid the yearlong conflict in the country’s east. More than 6,000 people have died and around 1 million have been displaced by the fighting.