Nine Ukrainian soldiers killed in ‘tense’ eastern conflict

NINE Ukrainian servicemen have been killed in fighting Russian-backed separatists in the past 24 hours, the Kiev military said Tuesday, as rebels fought to encircle a key town straddling transport routes between their two strongholds.

  Violence in eastern Ukraine is at by far its worst since a ceasefire was agreed last September and Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of openly supporting the latest rebel advance with money, arms and troops on the ground.

  Military spokesman, Vladislav Seleznyov, said 29 servicemen had been wounded in addition to those killed, adding that fighting was the most intense near the strategic town of Debaltseve, north-east of rebel-held Donetsk.

  “The situation remains tense. In the past 24 hours, illegal armed groups carried out 120 attacks on government positions,” he said in a televised briefing.

  In Kiev, parliament was due to meet for an emergency session to vote on a statement that would call Russia an aggressor-state, lawmakers said. It was not immediately clear what implications such a declaration would have beyond its symbolism.

  U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said on Monday that deadly attacks on the port city of Mariupol on the weekend show that Moscow’s objective is to increase the Ukrainian territory it controls.

  Separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions, known as the Donbass, together account for around nine per cent of Ukrainian territory, excluding the peninsula of Crimea, seized by Russia from Kiev last March.

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