VOLNOVAKHA: Pro-Russian rebels firing mortar shells and grenades killed 17 Ukrainian soldiers on Thursday, the blackest day yet for the military and a dramatic ratcheting up of tensions just three days before a crunch election.
The attacks in the eastern industrial belt near the Russian border underscored the difficulties of the embattled Kiev government in resolving a crisis that is threatening to tear the country apart. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of trying to “escalate the conflict” and disrupt Sunday’s vote, calling on the UN Security Council to hold an urgent meeting on the crisis. He said the Kremlin’s announcement of a troop withdrawal from the border was merely a “bluff”, and that even if soldiers were redeploying, Ukraine was still being infiltrated by “armed terrorists”.
Adding to the chaos in the east, armed separatists seized four coal mines in the first such confirmed attack on the main economic engines of the former Soviet republic. Western governments have pressured Russia not to meddle in the snap election, seen as crucial to preventing all-out civil war erupting on Europe’s eastern flank.
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