Ukraine ceasefire appears to be holding


A ceasefire appears to be holding in Ukraine – although both sides have accused each other of violating the deal in the hours after the truce deadline passed.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko ordered government forces to stop firing under a plan agreed in Belarus this week.

The military said Ukrainian armed forces immediately fulfilled Mr Poroshenko’s order and guns fell silent in Donetsk and some other parts of the country’s east.

Under the peace agreement, both Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels were to hold their fire, before pulling back their heavy weaponry to form a wide buffer zone.

There were reports of continued fighting and movement of military vehicles right up to the deadline, and after it had passed government forces and rebels said there were violations in the first few hours.

A Ukraine military spokesman has said rebels shelled its positions 10 times after the truce began, but that the ceasefire is being observed ‘in general’.

A pro-Kiev official says two civilians were killed by rockets fired by rebels just after the start of the truce, the AFP news agency is reporting.

Mr Poroshenko admitted there was ‘alarm’ over the situation around the key transport hub of Debaltseve, where government forces have been hard pressed by Russian-backed separatists.

A senior pro-Russian separatist commander has said that rebels still have the right to fire on the town in spite of the ceasefire because ‘it is our territory’.

Intense fighting continued around the strategic government-held area on Saturday.

Earlier in the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers were besieged by separatists around the town and would have to lay down their weapons.

Rebels told the Associated Press news agency they will not consider any battles for the town to be a violation of the ceasefire.

The intensity of the fighting around Debaltseve and elsewhere raises doubts about whether the ceasefire will hold.

The White House said President Barack Obama spoke to Mr Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday and expressed concern about the violence.

The French presidency said Mr Putin reaffirmed in a phone call with his French and German counterparts on Saturday that the ceasefire must be respected.

The statement also said the three leaders will speak by phone with Mr Poroshenko on Sunday to take stock of the ceasefire.