Ukraine crisis: Poroshenko says peace deal in danger

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Media captionPetro Poroshenko warned the deal to end the war in the east was in "great danger"

Ukraine's president has warned that a deal to end fighting in the east is in "great danger" after heavy fighting ahead of Saturday night's ceasefire.

Petro Poroshenko also accused Russia of "significantly increasing" its offensive despite the peace agreement reached in Minsk on Thursday.

The US ambassador to Ukraine tweeted a satellite image that he said showed Russian artillery near Debaltseve.

Shelling was heard in the rebel-held city of Donetsk early on Saturday.

Fierce battles are said to be continuing around Debaltseve - a strategic government-held town almost encircled by pro-Russian rebel forces - and outside the southern port city of Mariupol.

The BBC's David Stern in Kiev says that as the clock ticks down to the ceasefire, fears are rising that it won't be observed.

Ukraine's military said on Saturday morning that seven service personnel had been killed and 23 wounded over the past 24 hours.

"Ahead of midnight (time of planned ceasefire) rebels are trying to complete tactically important plans to enlarge the territory under their control," spokesman Andriy Lysenko.

More than a dozen civilians were said to have died in shelling in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions on Friday.

The Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels accuse each other of targeting residential areas.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Rebel fighters have continued to besiege the government-held town of Debaltseve

The presidents of France, Russia and Ukraine as well as the German chancellor - who together clinched the agreement in Minsk, the Belarusian capital - are due to discuss the issue by phone over the weekend.

The UN Security Council will also meet in emergency session on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the US has said it is very concerned by reports of heavy weapons coming across the border from Russia.

The US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, also said on Twitter that Russian units along the border were preparing a large shipment of supplies to separatist fighters.

He pointed to satellite images of what he said was Russian artillery north of Debaltseve, taken on Thursday.

'Escalation expected'

Correspondents say the fighting shows no sign of stopping.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Petro Mekhed said the rebels wanted to "raise their flag" over Debaltseve and Mariupol before the midnight ceasefire (22:00 GMT) kicked in.

"Ukraine is expecting an escalation and taking all necessary measures to be able to respond," Mr Mekhed told reporters.

Ukraine's volunteer Azov battalion said pro-Russian rebels were using artillery and tanks to attack Shyrokyne, a village near Mariupol, on Saturday morning.

The port city lies between rebel-held eastern areas and the southern Crimea peninsula, which was annexed by Russia last March.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A young child was killed in Artemivsk in what the local authorities said was shelling by rebels
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Government forces were also reported to have retaken a number of villages around Mariupol
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Poroshenko said despite the agreement there was a "long way to go to peace"

Speaking earlier, President Poroshenko said that despite what had been agreed in Minsk, "Russia's offensive operations have intensified".

"We are still convinced that the Minsk achievements are in a big danger," he added.

'Serious live fire'

The group responsible for monitoring the ceasefire said it remained hopeful, despite there being "quite serious live fire" in several areas.

"We feel that the Minsk agreements are really the only available roadmap to a sustainable ceasefire," Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the OSCE, told the BBC.

In another development, a consignment of armoured vehicles from the UK has been delivered to Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence confirmed.

It said they were out-of-service, unarmed vehicles and were not lethal equipment.

The latest Minsk agreement:

  • Ceasefire to begin at 00:01 local time on 15 February (22:01 GMT 14 February)
  • Heavy weapons to be withdrawn, beginning on 16 February and completed in two weeks - beyond a buffer zone behind the current front line for Ukrainian forces and behind the September front line for separatist forces
  • All prisoners to be released; amnesty for those involved in fighting
  • Withdrawal of all foreign troops and weapons from Ukrainian territory. Disarmament of all illegal groups
  • Ukraine to allow resumption of normal life in rebel areas, by lifting restrictions
  • Constitutional reform to enable decentralisation for rebel regions by the end of 2015
  • Ukraine to control border with Russia if conditions met by the end of 2015

Pro-Russian rebels signed the peace agreement but key issues remain to be settled, including the situation in Debaltseve.

European leaders have warned Russia that it could face additional sanctions if the agreement is not respected.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the deal offered "a glimmer of hope", but warned: "It is very important that words are followed by actions."

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of supplying weapons and personnel to the rebels but Russia denies this.

Officials say more than 5,400 people have been killed since the conflict began, but the UN believes the actual death toll to be much higher.

Two Minsk accords - what are the differences?
September 2014 February 2015
The ceasefire No precise timing set. Starts at 00:00 local time on 15 Feb.
Withdrawal of heavy weapons No timetable, buffer zone of 30km (19 miles) to be created. Buffer zones from 50km to maximum of 140km; withdrawal to start by 16 Feb. Completion within two weeks.
Withdrawal of troops Pull-back demanded from existing frontline (at the time of signing the Ukrainian army had pushed the rebels back, but later the rebels made big gains). Ukrainian army pulls back from current frontline, but rebels retreat from 19 Sep 2014 line, so some recent rebel gains will be lost.
Control of Ukraine-Russia border OSCE to monitor border permanently, and security zones to be set up on both sides of border. Ukraine to regain full control of border only after local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk and after a full political settlement - deadline is end of 2015.
Release of all hostages Immediate. To be completed at latest on fifth day after military withdrawal.
Economic help for Donetsk/Luhansk Provide humanitarian aid and work to restore normal economic activity (no timetable). Provide humanitarian aid; restore full economic links with Donetsk/Luhansk, including welfare payments and banking services; Ukrainian state to help develop Donetsk/Luhansk and regions' co-operation with Russia.

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