A sudden surge in clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels killed at least seven people on Monday despite a tattered truce in Ukraine’s war-scarred east.
The overall death toll reported for the past two days rose to 12 after the bloodiest outburst of violence since the former Soviet republic and its foes last month agreed an “indefinite” ceasefire.
The fighting came as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to step up economic sanctions against Moscow and fears grew in Kiev that US support could wane should US President Donald Trump draw closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Poroshenko cut short his visit to Berlin to meet with Merkel after hearing news of the deaths, his spokesman said.
“Since Sunday, there have been continuing clashes and heavy attacks on our positions,” Ukraine’s 72nd army brigade spokeswoman Olena Mokrynchuk told reproters.
The military in Kiev said three of its soldiers had died overnight.
A reporter in the town of Avdiivka near the rebel’s capital, Donetsk, saw Kiev troops capture three rebels on Monday. Two of them later died of their wounds.
Electricity has been off since Sunday last week and water supplies are sporadic in Avdiivka amid the shelling and gunfire.
The separatists also reported two civilians deaths from Ukrainian fire around Donetsk.
The bloodshed put at risk yet another attempt by mediators to end one of Europe’s bloodiest conflicts since the 1990s Balkans wars.
Before meeting with Merkel, Poroshenko had told reporters: “We are certain that today we need decisive and united action that can motivate Russia to sit at the negotiating table and fully implement the Minsk agreements — particularly its security component — to stop civilians from dying.”
“We believe that not only should the sanctions be maintained, but they should be intensified as well,” he added.
Merkel said she found the situation “worrying,” but gave no indication on whether she intended to add to the pressure on Putin.
Ukraine fears that staunch support from the US could now dry up if Trump makes good on his campaign pledge to improve ties with Moscow.
The sides have since agreed to a series of temporary ceasefires and an “indefinite” one on Dec. 23 last year, but none have been respected.
The violence had died down considerably until Sunday and it was not immediately clear what provoked the rebel attack.
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