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Quieter, but guns of war still not silent, on first day of cease-fire in Donetsk

February 16 2015, 09:59

A resident collects water from a broken pipe in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Feb. 15. Fighting dropped sharply but there was still sporadic shooting after a ceasefire came into force across east Ukraine, the first step in a fragile peace plan aimed at ending 10 months of conflict.A resident collects water from a broken pipe in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Feb. 15. Fighting dropped sharply but there was still sporadic shooting after a ceasefire came into force across east Ukraine, the first step in a fragile peace plan aimed at ending 10 months of conflict.It took just hours for Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists to accuse one another of violating the cease-fire that came into effect at 12 a.m. on Feb. 15. From the city center, gunfire could be heard in the distance, coming from the direction of the ruined Donetsk airport, where separatists are only a few kilometers from Ukrainian forces.

But overall, Feb. 15 was a quieter day through much of Donetsk, still recovering from 10 months of war, and violence that lasted right up to the moment of the cease-fire. On Feb. 14, shelling struck close to the apartment of separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko. The mortars killed three people.

A supermarket employee who only identifies herself as Tanya saw the shells land and feared that shrapnel would strike her place of work. "I didn't even know there would be a ceasefire. Nobody is informing us. We’re just living here and fed up with all these horrible events," she says, blaming both sides. "Ukraine or Donetsk People’s Republic. It doesn’t matter. Both need to stop bombing each other."

Most people in Donetsk welcome an end to the war, which has isolated the provincial capital of Ukraine's largest oblast. Banks aren’t working. Most shops are closed. Daily life is not what it used to be.

Despite the decreased fighting, the cease-fire is as shaky as it gets.

Zakharchenko, the separatist commander, has claimed that the Ukrainian-held city of Debaltseve, a strategic railway hub, belongs to the separatists and that the cease-fire doesn't apply there. It has been the scene of the heaviest fighting in recent weeks, with an estimated thousands of Ukrainian troops surrounded on three sides by separatist forces.

Several reports have come from the Debaltseve area that artillery fire is coming from both sides.

Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, during a news conference on Feb. 15, said the separatists have denied access to Debaltseve by the special monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Klimkin said the refusal violates the spirit and letter of the Minsk agreement reached on Feb. 12 by the presidents of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. Klimkin noted that, under the deal, the OSCE is the international organization designated to monitor the cease-fire.

Despite the denial of access to the area of heaviest fighting recently, the OSCE stated that the ceasefire is being largely observed.

Also, military hardware from the separatist-city Horlivka has been spotted, presumably for use in Debaltseve.

Nonetheless, in the Ukrainian-held city of Popasna, northwest of Debaltseve, two people were reported to have been killed by Russian-backed separatists, endangering the truce even more.

At the second-to-last checkpoint before entering Ukrainian-held territory, a group of young armed separatist soldiers check documents of civilians leaving Donetsk.

One of the young soldiers who introduces himself only as Andrei believes the ceasefire will not last long.

"We have fought for so long already. I quit school and work to join our militias. Ukraine has killed thousands of our people as well as their own. We can only expect Ukraine to shell us again," he says, as he inspects civilians' documents.

Close to nightfall, some more light explosions were heard near the Donetsk airport, clouding the hopes of people who want the fighting to end so that Ukraine can begin to recover.

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