Ukraine crisis: Woman killed as shelling near Donetsk in east of country challenges ceasefire

Shelling in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has seen the first casualty since the ceasefire with Russia was brokered, according to the city council

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The Independent Online

A woman has been killed and three soldiers wounded as reports emerge of fresh shelling in eastern Ukraine just two days after the government and Russian-backed rebels agreed to a ceasefire.

Explosions were heard and clouds of smoke were seen late on Saturday night near Mariupol, a port city an hour outside of Donetsk, and Mariupol City Council has announced that a civilian has been killed - the first casualty since Friday's ceasefire.

Local media claims that the deceased was a 33-year-old woman, who had died in hospital of her wounds following the overnight shelling. There are unconfirmed reports that three more people are being treated for injuries.

The explosions were reported on the outskirts of the city, where Ukrainian troops have been holding defensive lines against the rebels. The Azov Battalion, a volunteer troop of Ukrainian fighters, made claims on Facebook that it was hit by Grad rockets, with the Mariupol City Council confirming that a soldier was injured during the attack.

The reports of renewed conflict come just days after a ceasefire was negotiated by Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists who have been fighting in the country’s east for more than four months. Earlier in the day, the presidents of Ukraine and Russia said the ceasefire was mostly holding, but the truce appeared fragile as both sides accused the other of violations.

Mariupol, on the coast of the Sea of Azov, has a population of about half a million. Rebels recently opened a new front on the coast, leading to fears the separatists were trying to secure a land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in March.

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's national security council, told reporters that rebels had fired at Ukrainian forces on 10 occasions on Friday night after the ceasefire took effect.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed steps "for giving the ceasefire a stable character" in a telephone conversation, but both leaders assessed the ceasefire as having been "fulfilled as a whole".

A separate Kremlin statement about the call said: "There was a mutual satisfaction with the fact that the sides of the conflict were overall observing the ceasefire regime."

Ukraine, Russia and the Kremlin-backed separatists signed the ceasefire deal on Friday in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

The negotiators agreed on the withdrawal of all heavy weaponry, the release of all prisoners and the delivery of humanitarian aid to devastated cities in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the International Committee for the Red Cross said its workers had tried to deliver food aid to the city of Luhansk, which had endured weeks of heavy fighting, but turned back after shooting north-east of the city.

Fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government troops has ravaged the already teetering Ukrainian economy, claimed at least 2,600 civilian lives and left hundreds of thousands homeless, according to UN estimates.