FIGHTING in the eastern break-away regions of Ukraine has
intensified over the past week, leading to the greatest loss of
life since a ceasefire agreed last September in Minsk (News,
Pro-Russian separatist leaders announced that they had begun an
offensive in the strategically important coastal city of Mariupol
at the weekend; but backtracked when it was revealed that 30 people
were killed and about 100 people injured by rocket fire in the
Western sources report that Grad and Uragan rockets were fired
at residential areas from rebel-held territory; and Jens
Stoltenberg, NATO's general secretary, said that there had been a
"substantial increase in the flow of equipment from Russia to the
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, told a press
conference that Western media were using the deadly attack to "whip
up anti-Russian hysteria".
Ukrainian officials said that the fighting that started at the
beginning of this week had resulted in seven Ukrainian soldiers
being killed and 24 more wounded. About 184 others are said to have
been captured by the rebels. About 300 people are reported to have
been killed as a result of the conflict in the past three weeks,
bringing the deaths to more than 5000.
One of the shells hit a secondary school; another exploded near
Holy Trinity Church in the village of Popasnaja, the regional
governor said. The facade of the church, one of the oldest in the
Donbas region, was damaged, and its iron gates were said to
resemble a sieve.
"The shelling by pro-Kremlin terrorists of neighbourhoods in
Mariupol...is more proof that the so-called People's Republic is a
terrorist organisation," Patriarch Filaret of the independent
Ukrainian Orthodox Kiev Patriarchate said in a statement.
"What happened today in Mariupol is a terrible tragedy; the
murder of civilians by terrorists. We sympathise with the families
of those killed and wounded; and with all the inhabitants of
He said that he was praying for the "repose of the souls of the
deceased, for the health of the wounded, for God's help and
protection", especially for those who were living in what he
described as "the occupied territories", and "for victory over the
aggressor and the establishment of a just peace in the Ukrainian
land of the Donbass".
European foreign ministers were due to meet in emergency session
yesterday to discuss extending their sanctions on Russia. It was
expected that the talks would agree the principles of any
extension; but that they would not come into effect until the
informal meeting of EU leaders next month.
In an unusual move, the leaders of the 28 EU countries,
including the UK, issued a joint statement on Monday condemning the
"We note evidence of continued and growing support given to the
separatists by Russia, which underlines Russia's responsibility,"
they said. "We urge Russia to condemn the separatists' actions and
to implement the Minsk agreements."
The leaders said that they were calling on their foreign
ministers to "assess the situation and to consider any appropriate
action, in particular on further restrictive measures".
On Tuesday, however, a spokesman for the new extreme-left
Syriza-led government of Greece said that the statement had not
been approved by the new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras. Syriza's
MEPs have consistently adopted pro-Russian positions, and have
voted against the EU's Association Agreement with Ukraine.
Speaking at the weekend, President Obama said that he was
"deeply concerned" about the latest violence and "the aggression
that these separatists, with Russian backing, Russian equipment,
Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops, are
"We will continue to...ratchet up the pressure on Russia, and I
will look at all additional options short of military
confrontation," he said.
This week, the international ratings agency Standard &
Poor's announced that it was downgrading Russia's credit status to
"junk" level. The Russian stock market has seen sharp falls, and
the value of the rouble continues to fall.