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Ceasefire in Ukraine breached


Smoke rises over a residential area in the north of the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP)

Smoke rises over a residential area in the north of the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP)

Smoke rises over a residential area in the north of the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP)

A ceasefire between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine has been breached as mortar fire struck an apartment block in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

Both sides said yesterday they saw progress on the ground in fulfilling an agreement to pull back heavy artillery weapons from the front-line, but today Kiev accused the rebels of violating the ceasefire imposed on September 5.

"The situation remains difficult," said Col Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council. "Ukrainian detachments comply with the ceasefire regime but the terrorists continue provocations."

Col Lysenko also said that eight servicemen had been wounded in fighting overnight, although none were killed.

A residential building in the north of Donetsk was heavily damaged by shelling, destroying at least two apartments. While RIA Novosti news agency quoted the rebels as saying that two people died in the attack, nobody at the scene could confirm any civilian casualties.

That part of the city has been the subject of almost daily shelling despite the ceasefire, as fighting centred around the government-held city airport nearby has caught many residential neighbourhoods in the crossfire.

More than 3,500 people have been killed in the conflict since mid-April, the United Nations estimates, although the number of casualties is likely to be much higher. Much of the region's infrastructure and industry, from airports and bridges to coal mines, have been destroyed by shelling.

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The continuing shelling comes after an agreement signed on Saturday which called for both sides to pull back heavy artillery, setting up a buffer zone that would allow for the ceasefire to be more effectively enforced.

While withdrawals were under way in some villages in the region, the airport and other areas have remained hotspots.

The West and Ukraine have accused Moscow of propping up the rebels with arms and volunteers from the onset of the conflict. Nato has also reported Russian troops fighting on the Ukrainian territory.

Canadian Lt Col Jay Janzen, a Nato military spokesman, said today that Nato has witnessed "a significant pullback of Russian conventional forces from inside Ukraine", but added that "some Russian troops still remain".

He said it was difficult to say how many were still in Ukraine because they were moving across the border which is largely controlled by the separatists.

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