Civilians are caught in the renewed crossfire in Donetsk

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Marco Werman: Let’s turn now to a crisis we have not heard much about in recent weeks, the conflict in Ukraine. Yeah, it is still going on, even as efforts to reach some sort of peace deal continue. In fact, my BBC colleague David Stern in Kiev says things are heating up again between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels.


David Stern: There’s been a major escalation in the last few days. The pro-Russian separatists, or Russian-backed separatists one should say, are on the offensive in a number of places. We’ve had fighting around the airport, attacks on other areas, shelling, and the Ukrainians are accusing the Russians of sending regular military army across the border. Now, this isn’t anything new in terms of accusations, but it does sound like, if it is true, that there is a general offensive going on and this is a significant escalation.


Werman: So, a lull. Can you explain what triggered the start of this new fighting?


Stern: Well, that’s a good question and really no one can say. As I say, it was a lower level of fighting, there was never a complete truce. And if you remember, at the beginning of September, there was a peace deal that was reached that provided the outlines of a peace deal, there were a number of things that were agreed upon--prisoner exchanges, the two sides pulling back, their artillery, and also a ceasefire. This was really not observed. But it’s really difficult to say why it’s happening at this very moment.


Werman: What is the latest movement on any peace deal getting brokered, because Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, says he’s seeking an immediate ceasefire to the conflict.


Stern: That’s right, and the Ukrainians have said that they’re seeking an immediate ceasefire, and Mr. Lavrov and his Ukrainian, French, and German counterparts will be meeting today. All sides say they’re for peace, all sides say they’re for a diplomatic solution. In fact, experts, when you talk to them, they say there really isn’t a military solution here, so nobody can really win this.


Werman: You mentioned the airport in Donetsk a moment ago. We’ve seen footage shot from a drone that shows that airport, it’s in complete ruins, you can’t even make out a runway anymore--craters from mortars and shells, pockmarks, everything. Does that give us a sense of how at risk civilians are closer to the center of Donetsk?


Stern: Well yes, exactly. The civilians are very much in the center of this. They’re getting shelled from both sides. Both sides apparently are shelling civilian areas. Lately, it seems that since the rebels are on the offensive, they’ve been doing more of it, but in the past it has also been the government troops. The rebels have also been firing from civilian centers, so they’ve been drawing responding fire from the government troops. The civilian toll is rising, deaths as well as wounded, there’s been talk of, again, a steady stream of people trying to escape the area, and obviously that’s one of the main concerns, in addition to just the general humanitarian situation because, as before, they’re low on water, food. Obviously the fighting doesn’t help that situation.


Werman: You’ve followed this conflict since the protests in the Maidan in Kiev. If this were a novel, what chapter are we on? Or is it all setting up to be just an unpleasant sequel to volume one?


Stern: If it were a novel, I fear it could be “War and Peace.” We’re looking at multiple volumes. This is far from over. I think that everyone in Ukraine realizes that if the war were even to end tomorrow, that would not be the end to the saga. We also have economic problems here, we have a country that they have to restore. But, unfortunately, the war is definitely not going to end tomorrow and I think that we’re going to be looking at even more fighting given the escalation that we’ve been seeing in the last days.


Werman: David Stern, my colleague with the BBC, speaking with me from Kiev. Thank you very much. Good to speak again.


Stern: Thank you.