Servicemen of police units and the National Guard of Ukraine stand by their armored cars in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Jan. 22, 2015.
Credit: Sergey Bobok

GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: VIOLENCE IN UKRAINE

UPDATE: 01/23/15 4:00 PM ET

Signing off

This live blog is now closed.

UPDATE: 01/23/15 3:50 PM ET

The fall of Ukraine's Donetsk Airport

This Economist story highlights the significance of the fight for Donetsk International Airport, which fell into rebel hands this week:

Defending the airport was the Ukrainian army’s only triumph. Its fall may produce a despair similar to that seen after last August’s crushing defeat at Ilovaisk. And if the rebels can capture nearby towns, the airport may be used to to resupply them. 

UPDATE: 01/23/15 3:21 PM ET

The scene near Donetsk today

AFP/Getty photographer Oleksandr Stashevskiy took these photos of Ukrainian servicemen riding armored personnel vehicles in Orlovka village near the war-torn eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.  

UPDATE: 01/23/15 2:17 PM ET

Rebels vow to conquer more territory

Agence France-Presse — Sporadic shelling echoed across the rebel stronghold on Friday, and another three soldiers were killed as well as 50 wounded, the military said. At least one civilian was also killed, according to Donetsk city officials.

UPDATE: 01/23/15 12:45 PM ET

Rebel gains in Debaltseve?

A school in the eastern Ukrainian city of Debaltseve was shelled yesterday, causing no injuries or deaths. The violence, however, appears to be escalating there, and the strategic hub may soon become a flashpoint in the conflict in the region. France 24 reports that the Ukrainian military is "struggling" to defend it. 

UPDATE: 01/23/15 11:10 AM ET

Bad omens from rebel leadership

Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine on Friday rejected further attempts at a ceasefire and promised to go on the offensive in a conflict that's intensifying despite nominal diplomatic efforts in Europe.

A rebel representative said in a Facebook post Friday that separatist forces are launching an offensive along nearly the entire front, seeking to push the Ukrainian military from key positions.

"Wherever [Ukrainian troops] remain, they'll be cooked in boilers," the leader, Pavel Gubarev, wrote.

— Dan Peleschuk

UPDATE: 01/23/15 10:26 AM ET

Important read on yesterday's bus attack in Donetsk

"Whichever way this attack is interpreted — as evidence of rebels shooting their own, or of pro-Ukrainian partisans operating within the city — it is certain to radicalise both sides further," writes Oliver Carroll in The Independent.

UPDATE: 01/23/15 9:58 AM ET

Putin blames Kyiv for fighting, civilian deaths in Ukraine

Reuters — Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed on Friday what he said were Kyiv's "criminal orders" for a surge in fighting in east Ukraine in which civilians have been killed.

"The Kyiv authorities have given an official order to start large-scale military operations practically throughout the whole line of contact. The result is tens of killed and wounded, not only among the military on both sides but... among civilians," Putin told senior state officials in televised comments.

UPDATE: 01/23/15 9:12 AM ET

What do Ukrainians think about their country's conflict?

UPDATE: 01/23/15 8:45 AM ET

More than 5,000 people killed in Ukraine conflict

The United Nations human rights office said the overall death toll of the conflict in Ukraine is now more than 5,000.

"The significant escalation of hostilities since January 13 has taken the toll to 5,086 individuals and we fear the real figure may be considerably higher," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Meanwhile, there are clear indications that the violence is set to intensify in the coming days.

The Associated Press reports that separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko ruled out any hopes of a halt in fighting. "Attempts to talk about a ceasefire will no longer be undertaken by our side," Zakharchenko said

UPDATE: 01/22/15 4:00 PM ET

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UPDATE: 01/22/15 3:58 PM ET

France urges Ukraine ceasefire as fighting intensifies

Agence France-Presse — France on Friday called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine's war-torn east, calling the upsurge in fighting barely hours after peace talks in Berlin "dreadful."

"I renew a call in the firmest manner for a ceasefire... and to return to what we had agreed on yesterday," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told AFP on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"It's a dreadful situation... just last night together with the British, Russian, German and Russian foreign ministers we agreed on a deal calling on everyone to withdraw their heavy weapons according to the Minsk agreement," he said, referring to a widely flouted September truce deal done in the Belarussian capital.

"Diplomats are doing their work but the rebels too must follow suit," said the minister, adding that it was pointless holding a new round of peace talks in Astana if the violence prevailed.

UPDATE: 01/22/15 2:39 PM ET

Violence in eastern Ukraine seems endless now 

Here's how we got there

UPDATE: 01/22/15 1:57 PM ET

Ukraine loses Donetsk airport to rebels

Here's The New York Times' report on the airport in Donetsk that fell under rebel control today:

The airport, the scene of fierce battles in recent days, is nonfunctional, the terminal and runways having been destroyed months ago. Nonetheless, it has retained high symbolic value in the ongoing hostilities as the government’s last toehold in the city, the largest in the contested territory of southeastern Ukraine.
 

UPDATE: 01/22/15 1:25 PM ET

More grim news out of eastern Ukraine 

It's not only Donetsk that's being rocked by heavy shelling.

Debaltseve, a strategic road and rail hub northeast of the rebel stronghold, has also reportedly come under intense fire in recent days. Ukrainian troops are largely surrounded on three sides by rebel forces in the frontline city, while civilians are increasingly bearing the costs of the fighting.

In fact, Ukraine's General Staff says the area has become a critical new epicenter that came under fire by rebels more than 30 times alone since this morning, Ukrainian media reported.

Here are some photos of the destruction by journalists from the Kyiv Post:

UPDATE: 01/22/15 11:51 AM ET

There are reportedly American soldiers in Ukraine

... just not exactly in the way you — or the Kremlin — might imagine.

A contingent of US military troops, led by top Army commander in Europe Lt. Gen. Frederick Hodges, is in Kyiv meeting with Ukrainian counterparts to discuss the prospect of joint training later this year.

According to Defense News One, an undetermined number of US soldiers will travel to western Ukraine in the spring to train four companies of Ukraine's National Guard. Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Vanessa Hillman told the outlet the goal is "to assist Ukraine in strengthening its law enforcement capabilities, conduct internal defense, and maintain rule of law."

The pro-Ukraine, English-language network Ukraine Today — widely seen as the country's answer to the pro-Kremlin channel RT — has footage of the recent visit:

 

While in Kyiv, Hodges told reporters that Russia has significantly beefed up its involvement in eastern Ukraine, The Hill reported.

"When you look at the amount of Russian equipment that the proxies were using prior to the Minsk agreements, that amount has doubled beginning in December into the hundreds," he said.

— Dan Peleschuk

UPDATE: 01/22/15 11:12 AM ET

NATO ambiguous on Russian invasion claim

NATO military chief Philip Breedlove said Thursday the Western alliance has noted a spike in Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine, but could not confirm the specific figure offered by Ukraine's president.

President Petro Poroshenko claimed Wednesday the Kremlin had dispatched 9,000 regular troops to fight Ukrainian forces, slamming what he said was Russian "aggression."

Breedlove acknowledged an increased presence of sophisticated weapons systems "that have accompanied past Russian troop movements into Ukraine," Reuters reported.

But he could not confirm Poroshenko's bold assertion. 

UPDATE: 01/22/15 11:11 AM ET

The Ukrainian soldiers captured by Donetsk rebels

AFP/Getty photographer Aleksander Gayuk took these photos of Ukrainian soldiers kneeling down before the self-declared leader of Donetsk People's Republic Alexander Zakharchenko:

UPDATE: 01/22/15 10:30 AM ET

Ukrainian troops under fire — psychologically

GlobalPost's Dan Peleschuk reports from Kyiv, Ukraine:

Hours after diplomats in Berlin agreed to re-establish a buffer zone between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, officials here confirmed their troops had abandoned a key part of the besieged Donetsk airport.

But that wasn’t the only the only setback the Ukrainian military faced Thursday.

Shortly after a deadly bus shelling in Donetsk, rebels escorted a Ukrainian soldier captured amid recent fighting onto the scene — a bus stop in the city itself — where he endured verbal and physical abuse from a crowd of seething onlookers. (Warning: Graphic language in Russian.)



The episode represents the seemingly ever-deepening animosity in rebel-held territory against the Ukrainian military, which both rebels and many ordinary citizens there blame for indiscriminate shelling of civilian targets.

The rebels later reportedly paraded an entire group of Ukrainian prisoners captured during fighting at the airport to survey the damage and “ask forgiveness,” according to rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko.

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t shoot them all,” he was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Interfax. 

Zakharchenko also insisted on Thursday his forces would push the front line further even out, “so that [the Ukrainian military] can’t fire on Donetsk.”  

In a dark twist of irony, Thursday also marks Unity Day in Ukraine, a state holiday marking the 1919 union of western and eastern Ukraine as part of the short-lived Ukrainian People’s Republic.

UPDATE: 01/22/15 9:28 AM ET

Photos of the scene of the shelling

Mashable's senior correspondent Christopher Miller reports on the blasts in Donetsk:

UPDATE: 01/22/15 8:33 AM ET

Shelling of Ukrainian bus kills at least 8 civilians

Reuters — At least eight civilians were killed on Thursday when a shell or mortar hit a public transport stop in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, regional officials and eyewitnesses said.

The strike, which wrecked a bus and blew out windows nearby, followed a night of intense fighting at the city's main airport and coincided with diplomatic talks involving Ukraine and Russia.

Military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed overnight, six at the airport complex, a symbolic target where a small group of government defenders have been holding out against Russian-backed separatists for months.

The spokesman later said government forces had withdrawn from the airport's new terminal, the core of the complex.

"We continue to control the southern part of the airport ... we left the new terminal because it looks like a sieve and there's simply nowhere to hide there," Seleznyov said.

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