The Ukraine Ceasefire Is Holding, But Barely

A ceasefire agreed upon last week in Ukraine was barely a day old before new fighting began Sunday. After a year of fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian rebels, and some tense negotiations in Belarus, the truce had been announced on Thursday by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. Since the ceasefire began, at least five Ukrainian fighters have been killed, military leaders told The Guardian.

Under the terms of the agreement, troops for both sides in the eastern areas of Donetsk and Lugansk were given two weeks to withdraw and new elections were to be held. But on Sunday, the city of Debaltseve, which has been the site of intense fighting for more than a month, was again where shelling and artillery fire were heard, The Washington Post reported. The road to Debaltseve, a ten-mile stretch that is believed to contain land mines, has been under fire for weeks from both sides of the conflict, isolating Ukraine's soldiers there.

Part of the problem is that the leader of the rebels, Alexander Zakharchenko, does not consider Debaltseve to be bound by the ceasefire, The New York Times reported, which is contrary to the position of the Ukrainian government. President Obama is apparently concerned about the situation in Debaltseve, and spoke to Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko, whom the Times says has denied there are soldiers trapped there.

It's not clear whether Russian president Vladimir Putin considers Debaltseve to be outside the purview of the ceasefire, according to The Guardian, but it's believed that Putin did not want the ceasefire to take effect as early as it did, because he wanted rebels to have time to seize the town before it took effect.

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More than 5,000 people have died in the conflict in Ukraine since fighting broke out in April. Sunday's ceasefire is the second attempt to end the fighting; a truce in September fell apart not long after it was announced.

Despite the scope of the bloodshed, Poroshenko said Sunday that Ukraine would not "turn the other cheek" if the agreement were broken. If the situation around Debaltseve continues to deteriorate, it's feared that Poroshenko could declare martial law, adding fuel to an already volatile situation.

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