Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ukraine/Russia: Update--Cease-Fire Seemingly Occurs in Name Only

According to Reuters, at least 10 people were killed on Wednesday (October 1) when shells hit a school playground and a public transit mini-van in a nearby street in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, underscoring the fragility of a ceasefire between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
Teachers managed to lead pupils at school No. 57 into a cellar for safety when shelling started and there were no children among those killed, municipal authorities and witnesses said.
The shelling occurred at 1000 hours on the first day of the new school year after the 50-60 pupils aged from eight to 10 had already entered the school. The dead included a male biology teacher and the father of one of the children at the school, teachers said.
Apart from those bodies and that of a third person who was identified as a separatist fighter, Reuters correspondents saw a further six bodies in the burned-out mini-van and on streets nearby.
The regional administration said a total of 10 people had been killed in the shelling in the city, a stronghold of Russian-backed rebels waging a separatist rebellion against the pro-Western government in Kiev. Rebels put the number of dead at 12, saying two victims had been removed from the scene.
View gallerNine others were wounded, seven of whom were taken to hospital, the municipality said in a statement on its website.
City authorities blamed the shelling on the rebels and the separatists blamed it on government forces. It interrupted a fragile cease-fire in a conflict in which about 3,500 people have been killed, according to UN figures.
COMMENT:  Earlier in the week nine Ukrainian service members were killed in clashes with separatists, suggesting that the cease-fire is very tentative.
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The school is in a city district a few kilometers from the city's main airport where separatists have been trying to dislodge government forces for some days.
Since the rebellions erupted in eastern Ukraine in April and shelling began in Donetsk, authorities have introduced distance-learning courses for children to allow them to stay at home. School No. 57 has capacity for 400 children although only the 50-60 assembled for classes on Wednesday.
There were pools of blood inside the school and the floor was strewn with broken glass and overturned school tables.
Lidia Sheiko, who teaches Russian at the school, said: "It was a nightmare. There was glass flying everywhere. The children got frightened and began to cry."
Near the shelled school, a REUTERS news team saw two charred bodies in the mini-van, two more on the pavement and another two on the street about 20 meters (yards) away.
A car had also been hit and destroyed. Rebels at the scene said two people had been killed in it and their bodies had been removed.
A commander of a rebel unit, Viktor Khalyava, said the school was hit by five Uragan rockets fired by the Ukrainians. "It was a targeted strike on the school," he said.
The municipal authorities however blamed the attack on the school and on the minibus on forces of the rebel "Donetsk People's Republic."

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