2 Feb 2015

Intense fighting in east Ukraine

9:46 am on 2 February 2015

There are intense battles between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

They are fighting for control of the strategic town of Debaltseve, which is a key position between the rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Ukrainian forces are currently in control of Debaltseve but insurgent fighters are trying to encirle them and there have been reports of intense and constant artillery fire.

Local officials said civilians were being evacuated along the only passable road linking the town to the government side and that conditions were increasingly difficult for those left behind with no electricity, heating or water.

The number of recent casualties from around war-torn eastern Ukraine is continuing to climb.

Ukraine's military said 13 soldiers had died and 20 were wounded over the past 24 hours, pushing the military death toll over the past two days to 28.

At least 17 civilians also died in fighting during the same period.

Peace talks collapse

The latest bloodshed came as Ukraine's warring sides looked further than ever from agreeing a peace deal after the collapse of truce talks in the Belarus capital of Minsk on Saturday.

The talks broke down with Ukraine's representative and separatist envoys angrily accusing each other of sabotaging the meeting.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have spoken with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, expressing their regret for the failure of the talks.

The three leaders once again called for an immediate ceasefire.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has now left at least 5,100 people dead since April.

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