Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels are exchanging heavy tank and artillery fire in and around Debaltseve, a strategic town in eastern Ukraine.
BBC, January 30
There are reports – not independently confirmed – that the rebels have seized the nearby village of Vuhlehirsk.
Many civilians remain trapped in Debaltseve, while others – including people with shrapnel wounds – have managed to reach the town of Artemivsk.
Russian media say shellfire has killed seven people in the city of Donetsk.
Ceasefire no more
The Economist, January 31
Donetsk – Amid the rubble of eastern Ukraine lie traces of life before the war: a pair of broken sunglasses, a stuffed pink unicorn, a roll of undeveloped film. In Dokuchaievsk, south of Donetsk, where a rocket recently ripped into an apartment block, a lonely dog, Virma, sits by the rubble, paws shaking. Virma’s owner, like the other 5,000 people killed in Ukraine since last April, will not be back. Despite hopes that the conflict was edging towards resolution, Ukraine’s war has entered its deadliest period since a nominal ceasefire halted a Russian-led advance in September. Dokuchaievsk is just one of many small towns and cities caught up in the latest violence.
The ceasefire unravelled when rebel forces renewed their siege of Donetsk airport. President Petro Poroshenko threatened to “hit the rebels in the teeth”; the rebels’ leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, promised to attack Kiev’s troops until he reached “the borders of the former Donetsk region.” But mostly both sides hit civilians, fighting at a distance with heavy artillery. In the nine days to January 21st, at least 262 people were killed in eastern Ukraine, an average of 29 a day. A rocket strike on a bus killed 12 civilians in Ukrainian-controlled Volnovakha on January 13th; nine days later another 13 were killed in Donetsk. On January 24th a barrage of Grad rockets fired from rebel-held territory into Mariupol, a port, killed another 30.
Abroad, Mr Poroshenko warns of a continental war, evoking the spectre of Nazism while visiting Auschwitz to rally support against Mr Putin. Yet he has resisted calls officially to acknowledge that Ukraine is at war. Some officials fear that putting the country on a war footing would spook Ukraine’s Western creditors, especially the IMF, which recently promised a new loan package. Others note that martial law would bring restrictions on political and media freedoms. Instead, Ukraine’s parliament has voted to label Russia as “an aggressor country”.
Ukrainian officials are calling for new sanctions. A “deeply concerned” Barack Obama has promised to consider all measures “short of military confrontation”. He could even begin supplying defensive weapons under a power recently given to him by Congress. But sending weapons Ukraine would also fuel Mr Putin’s feverish talk of Russia being at war with NATO’s foreign legions.