KIEV (Reuters) - Two Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and six wounded in the past 24 hours in separatist eastern territories, the Ukrainian military said on Sunday, describing an increase in fighting near the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Both sides accuse the other of regularly violating a ceasefire deal signed in Minsk, Belarus, in February, but an apparent escalation in violence over the past few weeks has prompted international monitors to warn of the threat of a bigger flare-up.
"Armed hostilities have risen significantly around Mariupol. The area of our positions being shelled has increased," Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing, referring to the government-held industrial hub on the Azov Sea.
The majority of ceasefire violations by the pro-Russian rebels had occurred in the area west of separatist-held Donetsk city, he said. "There are snipers actively working there, also illegal armed groups using artillery banned under the Minsk agreements."
The separatists said one civilian had been killed and another wounded, accusing government troops of shelling residential areas of Donetsk and other rebel-held towns, separatist press service DAN reported.
"This is another monstrous violation of the Minsk (peace) process," separatist representative Denis Pushilin was quoted as saying.
Over 6,200 people have been killed since fighting erupted in April last year. Ukraine and NATO accuse Russia of supporting rebels with troops and weapons, a charge the Kremlin denies.
On Saturday, U.S. Senator John McCain urged the international community to provide Ukraine with weapons.
"This is shameful, shameful that we would not provide them with weapons to defend themselves. They are fighting with 20th century weapons against Russia's 21st century weapons. That's not a fair fight," he said during a visit to Kiev.
Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Digby Lidstone