Ukrainian Troops Killed Amid Increased Fighting in East

State Dept concerned about spike in violence

A Russia-backed rebel tank moves to position, near Donetsk airport, eastern Ukraine, Friday, June 12
A Russia-backed rebel tank in eastern Ukraine / AP
December 21, 2016

Officials say that at least two Ukrainian service members were killed in the past day and seven since Sunday amid a spike in violence in eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists are fighting Ukrainian government troops.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's defense ministry, said in a statement Wednesday that two troops had been killed and eight wounded in the past 24 hours of fighting in the rebel-held area of Donetsk, according to the Associated Press. Lysenko also said that one Ukrainian service member was being held captive.

Since Sunday, at least seven Ukrainian service members have been killed and dozens wounded, according to Ukrainian officials. The U.S. State Department on Tuesday expressed concerns about the spike in violence in eastern Ukraine.

State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that six Ukrainian troops has been killed and 33 injured over the previous two days, describing the violence as a "Russian-separatist attempt to seize additional Ukrainian territory." The two-day figure represented the highest over the last 18 months.

Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that Russian-backed separatists have tried to push through government posts south of Donetsk surrounding the town of Svitlodarsk, accusations that the rebels have denied.

Russia first intervened in Ukraine in spring 2014, annexing the Crimean Peninsula. Despite a ceasefire agreement brokered in 2015, fighting between Russian-backed forces and Ukrainian troops has persisted in the eastern part of the country, resulting in well over 9,000 deaths.

On Tuesday, Kirby underlined the U.S. desire for a "cease-fire recommitment" and accused Moscow of violating past agreements by supporting separatists fighting Ukrainian forces in the country's eastern region.

The State Department issued a travel warning for Ukraine earlier this month, warning U.S. citizens against traveling to Crimea or the country's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk under control by Russian-backed separatists.

"Separatist leaders have made statements indicating their desire to push the front line to the administrative borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts," the travel warning stated. "Artillery and rocket attacks near the line of contact continue to occur regularly. Individuals, including U.S. citizens, have been threatened, detained, or kidnapped for hours or days after being stopped at separatist checkpoints. The Government of Ukraine has stated that foreigners, including U.S. citizens, who enter Ukraine from Russia through separatist-controlled territory, will not be allowed through checkpoints into government-controlled territory."

"The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly," the State Department warned. "U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors should protests or demonstrations escalate."

The United States has slapped sanctions on Russian individuals and entities--the latest round of which were unveiled on Tuesday--for their involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

Published under: Military , Russia , Ukraine