Toll mounts in Ukraine ahead of peace talkstext_fields
Kiev: Heavy fighting continued in eastern Ukraine over the past one day, causing heavy casualties even as leaders from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany are scheduled to meet in Minsk Wednesday to discuss an end to almost 10 months of violence.
At least 19 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 78 others were wounded after being attacked by pro-independence rebels near the eastern frontline town of Debaltsevo, a senior Ukrainian defence official said.
"In shelling, rocket attacks and combat clashes, Ukraine lost 19 of its troops, including 17 members of the armed forces and two interior ministry soldiers," Xinhua news agency quoted Vladyslav Selezniov, acting spokesman for the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, as telling reporters.
Debaltsevo, a small railway hub, which lies between the two rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk, has become one of the main flashpoints of the conflict in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks.
In Donetsk, three civilians were killed and six wounded over the past one day, the municipal council said.
Violence was also reported away from the frontline, when Tuesday a rocket attack killed 16 people in Kramatorsk town, which experienced a lull in fighting since June 2014.
As the toll mounted, Ukrainian military and rebel forces are accusing each other of escalating the violence and trying to capture more territories to have additional influence during the much-anticipated peace talks in Minsk.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are expected to travel to the Belarus's capital later in the day for talks on how to stop the fighting in Ukraine.
Representatives from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and independence-seeking insurgents in eastern Ukraine will also attend the meeting.