(Vatican Radio) For the first time since a new ceasefire came into effect 10 days ago, the Ukrainian army says it has suffered no fatalities in the last 24 hours. But new challenges loom in conflict-torn Ukraine, with reports that prisoners of war are used to recover those who died in previous fighting, while Russia has threatened to cut off natural gas supplies.
Listen to Stefan Bos' report:
In the once-glittering, now-obliterated Donetsk airport terminal there was little time to celebrate news that Ukraine's army didn't suffer fatalities over the previous day.
Ukrainian prisoners of war in this now rebel-controlled area have been involved in a task that reportedly strained their hearts and muscles: they were seen digging through the rubble to retrieve the bodies of fellow soldiers.
Their comrades were killed last month in the bitter battle over the city's airport, once a showcase for the Euro 2012 soccer championship.
At least 15 bodies have lain uncollected since last month's battle, according to Ukrainian officials.
“If Ukrainian forces do not attack us, we will remove these bodies and give them to their mothers to bury them,” said rebel commander Mikhail Tolstykh overseeing the operation.
“These guys were fighting here, I do not know what for. It was according to the order of their president. They respected that order. All of us are military and we have to respect our enemy,” he added, speaking amid ruins.
Though the pro-Russian separatists here claim they are withdrawing heavy weapons from the frontline, Ukrainian soldiers several kilometers away remain pessimistic.
“Yesterday and before yesterday, there was still fighting. Our troops were under attack,” said Ukrainian commander Victor Sherdluh.
“That’s why we didn’t pull the heavy weapons back. We’ll see if the ceasefire will hold, as it was today in the afternoon. Then we can talk about pulling back.”
Later on Thursday the Ukrainian army began pulling back heavy arms, though it wasn't clear yet whether that would be done in all areas.
The UN says nearly 5,800 people are now known to have died in the conflict.
Yet, uncertainty over the future of the ceasefire agreed in Minsk isn't the only problem facing Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that Russia will cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine days if Kiev fails to pay in advance, a move that could impact deliveries to Europe. He said that Ukraine's latest payment was only good for another three to four days.
With tensions remaining high, Ukraine's currency, the hryvnia, dropped by at least 40 percent this year.
On Wednesday Ukraine's Central Bank banned banks from buying foreign currency on behalf of their clients for the rest of the week, but doubts remained whether that would bring stability to the troubled market.