KIEV (Reuters) - One Ukrainian soldier was killed and another wounded fighting pro-Russian separatists in the east, a military spokesman said on Thursday, as Kiev accused rebels of increasing violations of a ceasefire deal.
President Petro Poroshenko, whose initiative to boost the armed forces by a third 250,000 personnel was passed easily in parliament, has called the ceasefire the last chance for peace with the pro-Russian rebels.
Accusations of continued violence on both sides show the fragility of the peace accord agreed in Minsk last month, which calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the frontline.
Some 6,000 people have been killed in fighting since separatists took up arms last year in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland in response to the overthrow of the Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich in Kiev.
Interior Ministry adviser Zoryan Shkiryak said the rebels were not only failing to stop firing and pull back, but in fact building up forces in southern Donetsk province, near the Ukrainian-held port city of Mariupol.
“They are not withdrawing arms, they are not observing the ceasefire, they continue to relocate units and increase their number of tanks and rocket launchers,” he said.
Another military spokesman said rebels had attacked Ukrainian troop positions or civilian targets 40 times in the previous 24 hours, including 17 artillery attacks. The rebels accuse Ukrainian forces almost daily of shelling and firing.
The conflict has plunged ties between Russia and the West to Cold War-era lows as Kiev, along with the United States and the European Union, say they have evidence that Moscow is arming the rebels and boosting their ranks with regular army soldiers.
Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations and accused the United States of pushing Kiev’s pro-Western government into conflict with its own people.
Ukraine’s army, which has gained experience in fighting with separatists, will also be trained by foreign advisers.
“We will provide military trainers to the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told journalists after his meeting with Ukrainian counterpart in Kiev.
NATO said this week the ceasefire was holding overall and urged both sides to continue to withdraw artillery from the frontline. Since late last week, journalists have seen guns being sent back from the frontline on both sides.
The Ukrainian military says government forces are ready to withdraw the most powerful guns and various rockets systems from the contact line and expects similar steps from the rebels.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors the pullout, says it cannot fully confirm it as it has not been given access to the locations where some weapons have been moved.
Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Tom Heneghan