DONETSK: At least 18 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine in new artillery shelling just a day after a peace deal was signed to end the 10-month conflict.
Pro-Moscow rebels and government officials said Friday that seven civilians were killed across the conflict zone during the past 24 hours while Ukraine’s military said 11 soldiers lost their lives.
The unrest came as Europe warned Russia it risked fresh sanctions if the fighting did not stop.
The rebels and Kiev agreed to a wide-ranging peace plan Thursday after marathon talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.
A ceasefire across the conflict zone was meant to start at midnight Ukraine time Sunday (2200 GMT Saturday) with both sides supposed to begin pulling back heavy weaponry from along the frontline no later than two day after that.
The fragile agreement was seen as the best hope of ending the conflict, which has killed at least 5,480 people and ratcheted East-West tensions to highs not seen since the Cold War, but scepticism remains high after the collapse of a similar previous peace plan.
Kiev and the West accuse Russia of stoking the war in ex-Soviet Ukraine by pouring arms and troops to help the pro-Russian rebels fighting Kiev government troops in Ukraine’s industrial east. Moscow denies the charges.
“I don’t want anyone to have any illusions or to seem like I’m naive– there is still an awful long way to go to peace,” Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko told troops near Kiev.
“Nobody is absolutely certain that the conditions for peace signed in Minsk will be fulfilled.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, warned Russia that the European Union, which has already slapped Moscow with sanctions over the crisis, was not ruling out further measures if the truce failed.
“If there are difficulties we wouldn’t rule out other sanctions,” she said in Brussels on Thursday, after the 17-hour Minsk talks with French President Francois Hollande, Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko.