MOSCOW – Violence in Ukraine escalated sharply Tuesday, as artillery shells and airstrikes pierced the relative calm of a 10-day cease-fire hours after President Petro Poroshenko allowed it to expire.
Both sides appeared to be readying for a protracted battle after days in which the fighting diminished but did not disappear. Since mid-April, the Ukrainian military has battled pro-Russian separatists who have seized territory in eastern Ukraine.
The active phase of the counterterrorism operation resumed this morning, Oleksandr Turchynov, chairman of Ukraine’s parliament, told legislators. Our armed forces are hitting the bases and outposts of terrorists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the violence Tuesday, indicating that the period of relative conciliation from the Kremlin that started after Poroshenko’s May 25 election was over and that the Ukrainian leader now bore responsibility for the military operations, which started before he took office.
Unfortunately, President Poroshenko has resolved to resume military action, Putin said at a Moscow meeting of Russia’s ambassadors. We failed to convince him that the road to a secure, stable and inviolable peace cannot lie through war.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of publicly pushing peace while quietly allowing weaponry and volunteers to flow over the border into eastern Ukraine, a charge the Kremlin has denied. Many of the key separatist leaders in Ukraine are Russian citizens, and rebels have said they have used advanced Russian-made shoulder-mounted rockets to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft.
Poroshenko had two long phone conversations with Putin and the leaders of France and Germany in recent days in an effort to find a durable peace, but he had come under increasingly heavy attack at home for the cease-fire, which never quelled the violence entirely.
At least 27 soldiers died during the truce, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said, and many critics in Kiev said the pause in hostilities was simply giving separatists a chance to regroup.
Security forces and rebels skirmished across a wide swath of eastern Ukraine on Tuesday.
In one victory for the government, security forces retook a contested border checkpoint, Poroshenko’s office said. Combat engineers defused 35 mines scattered around the checkpoint, the office said, raising the specter of explosives that could persist long beyond the ongoing conflict. The claim could not be independently verified.
Rebels, meanwhile, said they had taken full control of the main airport in Luhansk.
Near Kramatorsk, four people died Tuesday and five were wounded when a minibus came under fire, the Donetsk regional administration said in a statement. In the rebel-held city of Slovyansk, heavy shelling destroyed a television tower.
And rebels early Tuesday opened fire on military airplanes at the Donetsk airport, according to the city’s mayor’s office.