Eight people have been injured and more than 100 buildings damaged as a result of shelling in a Novoluhanske settlement on the evening of December 18, the spokesperson of the national police’s Donetsk region department Nataliya Shiman reported.
The news of the shelling of Novoluhanske, located 53 km north-east of Donetsk, first emerged from the press service of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) — the official government name for military actions against Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east.
They reported that the shelling was carried out from the nearby Horlivka town — which is currently occupied by Russian-backed separatists — and that Grad multiple rocket launchers were used.
“Today, on December 18, around 5 p.m. Russian occupant forces have committed a barbarian, cynical shelling using multiple rocket launchers,” the press center wrote on Facebook.
According to the governor of the Ukrainian government-controlled part of Donetsk Oblast Pavlo Zhebrivskyi, all eight victims are now in stable condition, including a 6-year-old girl, who received psychological trauma.
“As of today, thanks to God and doctors, nothing endangers the lives of the [injured],” he wrote on Facebook.
Zhebrivskyi added that the settlement itself is still recovering from the tragic evening, which brought serious damages to the buildings of a local school, nursery and hospital among others. According to Zhebrivskyi, Novoluhanske’s power line and gas pipelines were also damaged but electricity and heating was restored on December 20.
Many state, as well as international organizations such as the Red Cross, have joined efforts to help Novoluhanske recover from the shelling.
During his speech at the Atlantic Council Washington think tank, the US Special Representative for Ukrainian Negotiations Kurt Volker referred to the evening of December 18 as one of the most violent nights, “certainly since February, and possibly this year.”
“It’s the worst fighting based on SMM (Special Monitoring Mission) ceasefire violations and civilian casualties since the Minsk agreements,” Volker later said to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “The cumulative impact of three years of fighting has also created the worst humanitarian impact as well, according to the UN.”
Photo credit: Pavlo Zhebrivsky facebook page
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine Chief Monitor (OSCE SMM) Ertugrul Apakan also noted the record levels of ceasefire violations since February 2017. Between December 11 and December 17, the OSCE had recorded 16,000 ceasefire violations, a 35 percent increase on the week before.
“A return to normality, wherein civilians can once again resume their everyday lives without fear of shelling and landmines is the first step to a long-term sustainable peace,” Apakan stressed.
Russia’s Earlier Actions
The severe shelling attack comes just days after the OSCE SMM reported that Russia is withdrawing its Armed Forces officers from the Joint Center for Control and Coordination (JCCC), something Russia’s interior ministry has confirmed on the afternoon of December 18.
Many believed the withdrawal to be Russia’s desire to undermine the international efforts in combating the Donbas conflict, while Ukraine’s interior ministry referred to the move as “another provocation.”
“We view this unprecedented move from Russia as just another provocation that is seriously damaging to the Minsk accords, as well as [Russia’s] intention to rid themselves of any responsibility — being one side of the conflict — for their armed aggression against our state,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Volker expressed a similar view on Twitter.
“Russia withdrew its officers from JCCC — a ceasefire implementation tool — right before a massive escalation in ceasefire violations,” he wrote. “Decision for peace lies with Russia.”
/By Maria Romanenko