At midnight Sunday, a new ceasefire deal went into effect in Ukraine, which has so far mostly been respected. Shelling continued until just before the deadline to end hostilities. 12 hours after it started, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that the front was mostly quiet.
There had been violations, however. Just 90 minutes after President Petro Poroshenko ordered the ceasefire, Ukrainian military officials relayed reports of mortar shelling in the Luhansk region. Reports were also received from the city of Donetsk that further violence was taking place there. The OSCE urged “all parties to fully adhere to the ceasefire in all locations.”
However, separatists defended their right to open fire on the city of Debaltseve, which they say is their territory. A senior rebel commander told reporters that “the territory is internal: ours. And internal is internal. But along the line of confrontation there is no shooting.” For the most part, however, neither side has been willing to take the blame for the renewed hostilities. Each side claims that with the exception of being fired upon, they have mostly respected the Ukraine ceasefire.
Maintaining peace in Debaltseve is crucial to the success of the ceasefire. However, officials have known since the deal was being discussed that it would be difficult to maintain. The city is major rail hub in eastern Ukraine and has been desirable for both sides since the beginning of the conflict. Poroshenko paid special attention to Debaltseve in his midnight address. He announced that if the ceasefire were not respected by the separatists, he would not hesitate to impose martial law throughout the country.
There were reports of violence leading up to the ceasefire in Debaltseve. Reporters in the area said that it grew abruptly quiet at midnight. A spokesman for the Ukrainian army said that the ceasefire had been violated 10 times during the night. All but one of the incidents took place in Debaltseve. The rebels have accused the Ukrainian army of one violation in the city which took place shortly after midnight.
In the Luhansk region, about a mile from separatist positions, an 87-year-old man and a 67-year-old woman were killed when shells hit their residence just after midnight. The governor of the region reported that they were buried under the ruins of their house. Further shelling was reported at 9:30 Sunday morning.
The ending of hostilities between Ukraine’s army and the separatists is only the beginning of the deal reached in Minsk. The OSCE will also oversee the removal of heavy weapons from the front. After that, it will oversee local elections, prisoner exchange, and will push for a law granting amnesty to separatists.
The OSCE does not have an easy task ahead of it. A representative of Ukraine’s government said that the separatists who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight 17 will not be granted amnesty. This may become an obstacle in keeping the separatists satisfied with the agreement. A rebel fighter in Donetsk told reporters that the ceasefire was all for show. He said that it may hold for two to three days at the most.
Despite the ceasefire in Ukraine only being mostly respected, residents of the affected region are grateful for it. One resident wished to specifically thank Angela Merkel for negotiating the ceasefire. He told reporters that he and his grandchildren are now able to have some hope for the future.
By Kirstin Pinto