Fresh fighting between Ukraine’s military and Russia-backed separatists has killed at least eight civilians, officials in eastern Ukraine said Tuesday.
At least 22 people were wounded in the fierce outbreak of shelling over the previous 24 hours, Kyiv and rebel officials said.
“It was flying all over the place, shrapnel, everything. From the top, everything burnt down. All the clothes that you see us wearing, this is all we have left now,” said Donetsk resident Valentina Voloshina.
Fighting has raged in and around the self-declared separatist Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, especially around the Kyiv-controlled town of Debaltseve, since peace talks in Belarus between Ukraine’s government and the separatists collapsed Saturday.
There are fears the violence could soon escalate. On Monday, a pro-Russian separatist leader announced a “general mobilization” with the aim of bolstering separatist armed forces to as many as 100,000 fighters.
US ponders lethal military assistance
Meanwhile, the United States says it has not made a decision on whether to provide Ukraine with lethal military assistance in its fight against the separatists.
Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at the State Department’s daily briefing that no options have been taken “on or off the table” and there is an “ongoing discussion,” but that no decisions have been made.
The New York Times reported Sunday that while President Barack Obama has not made a decision about supplying lethal aid to Ukraine’s security forces, his administration is taking a “fresh look” at the question of military aid.
The newspaper quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying Secretary of State John Kerry, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, were all open to new discussions about providing lethal assistance to Ukrainian forces. It also reported that an independent report being released Monday by eight former senior American officials, urging the United States to send $3 billion in defensive arms and equipment to Ukraine, is “fueling the broader debate” in Washington.
Death toll mounts
The Ukraine conflict has killed more than 5,100 people since it erupted last April following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Ukrainian authorities said Monday five soldiers had been killed in eastern Ukraine over the past day, while municipal authorities in Donetsk said 15 civilians had been killed there in the past few days.
The cease-fire agreement reached last September, which had been repeatedly violated, collapsed completely last week when rebels announced the start of a new offensive designed to expand their territory.
Kerry will travel to Kyiv on Thursday to meet with President Petro Poroshenko and other top Ukrainian officials.