FIGHTING has subsided around a flashpoint Ukrainian town following a week-long surge in violence that prompted US President Donald Trump to pledge to help bring peace to Europe’s backyard.
The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that no soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours for the first time since fighting over the working-class town of Avdiivka soared last week.
A total of 27 people have died in the battered town while eight more were killed in other parts of the war zone that covers the Russian-backed eastern separatist fiefdoms of Donetsk and Lugansk.
AFP reporters on the scene said the streets of Avdiivka were quiet and no shelling could be heard from the outskirts of the town where both sides have their big guns stationed.
Ukrainian military spokesman Sergiy Klymenko told AFP that a pause in hostilities agreed by the two sides came into effect from 8am (5pm AEDT) but that is was only a verbal deal and not on paper.
Klymenko said the truce was aimed at allowing workers to repair broken power lines after many in the town of 25,000 spent days without power or heat.
Ukraine said overall the level of rebel shelling across the conflict zone had halved over the past day while the insurgents announced their frontline towns had not come under bombardment overnight.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s first conversation with the new US leader since his inauguration took place as the former Soviet republic worries that Trump is seeking to build a friendship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Some analysts linked the escalation of the violence to this potential improvement in relations that had slumped to their lowest level since the Cold War while others attributed it to more local issues.
In the call Trump promised to try to push for an end to the conflict in the east but appeared to stop short of offering the sort of staunch backing Ukraine enjoyed under the Barack Obama administration.
“We will work with Ukraine, Russia, and all other parties involved to help them restore peace along the border,” the White House quoted Trump as saying.
The White House further said that the two leaders had a “good call” but provided few other details except to say that a meeting between Trump and Poroshenko was being arranged for the future.
Poroshenko himself put a more positive spin on the high-profile conversation with a statement saying he thanked Trump for his “firm support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
The statement said that the two leaders expressed “deep concern” about the spike in fighting in Avdiivka and underscored the need for an “immediate ceasefire”.
The Ukrainian leader’s office said also that they “spoke in favour of energising dialogue at all levels with the new US administration”.
The talks follow Trump’s phone conversation with Putin on January 28 that both sides described as constructive.
The 33-month conflict began shortly after Ukraine ousted its Russian-backed leader in February 2014.
Moscow responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014 before allegedly plotting the eastern insurgency to keep Ukraine under its thumb.
Washington’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley on Thursday condemned Russia’s “aggressive actions” in Ukraine — a surprising attack given Trump’s warm words toward Putin.
Russia denies any responsibility for the conflict and blames the United States for igniting three months of massive street protests that turned Ukraine toward the West.
The entire conflict has claimed more than 10,000 lives and has seen relations between Moscow and the West plunge to a post-Cold War low.
5 February 2017