Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fighting Intensifies in Eastern Ukraine Ahead of Peace Talks; Obama Speaks by Phone with Putin, Poroshenko

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Fighting Intensifies in Eastern Ukraine Ahead of Peace Talks; Obama Speaks by Phone with Putin, Poroshenko

Article excerpt

SARTANA, Ukraine * Fighting intensified Tuesday in eastern Ukraine as pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian troops sought to extend their gains ahead of crucial peace talks, and the government accused the separatists of shelling a town far behind the front lines, killing 12 people and wounding scores.

Germany, which has joined with France to try to broker a peace deal, urged Russia and Ukraine to compromise and called on the warring parties to refrain from hostilities that could derail a four- way summit Wednesday in Minsk, Belarus.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the talks were "one of the last" opportunities for ending the fighting, which has killed more than 5,300 people since April.

Poroshenko told Parliament in Kiev that the separatists launched a rocket strike Tuesday on the town of Kramatorsk, more than 30 miles from the nearest front line, hitting a regional military command center with the first salvo and then striking a nearby residential area.

Rebels denied any involvement in the attack and said it was a "provocation" by the Ukrainian authorities. Kramatorsk was the site of major fighting until July, when pro-Russian separatists retreated.

The government-controlled Donetsk administration said 12 people were killed by the barrage in Kramatorsk and 64 were wounded, including 29 civilians. Photos on the local Donetskiye Novosti website showed an artillery shell embedded in the ground next to a residential building and two bodies lying nearby.

Further south, the volunteer Azov battalion, loyal to the government in Kiev, said on social media Tuesday that it had captured several villages northeast of the strategic port of Mariupol, pushing the rebels closer to the border with Russia.

However, a rebel spokesman, Eduard Basurin, insisted in a televised news conference that the rebels had not retreated.

The mounting death toll comes amid renewed efforts to work out a peaceful solution in a conflict that has displaced at least 1 million people and left the Ukrainian economy in ruins. …

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