(Vatican Radio) Officials say four soldiers have been killed in the bloodiest battle in weeks between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in war-torn eastern Ukraine. The fresh fighting came after monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) expressed concern about ongoing fighting in the region that has plunged ties between Russia and the West to their lowest level since the Cold War.
Listen to the report by Stefan Bos:
Kiev military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said in a statement Sunday that three Ukrainian servicemen were killed and another wounded in the battle for control of the key industrial town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.
The outskirts of the Kiev-held steel town close to the rebels' de facto capital Donetsk has seen some of the fiercest clashes in the 33-month war. Motuzyanyk told media that the firefight involved artillery and large-calibre mortars.
A spokesman for the separatist forces said one rebel soldier died and another one was injured in the latest clashes. The fatalities came despite a ceasefire announced in December.
It has added to concerns among observers of Europe's security organization OSCE. Alexander Hug, the deputy chief monitor of the OSCE special monitoring mission to Ukraine, visited the troubled region in recent days. "I have been inspired and humbled by many of the descent people I have met and disappointed and frustrated by others, especially those who making decisions," he said.
"And [I am] saddened at seeing how little has changed. The violence continues," Hug stressed.He added that both sides are violating the ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus.
Nearly 10,000 people have died since the start of a pro-Russian rebellion in 2014 in eastern Ukraine.
Kiev and the West have accused Russia of masterminding the conflict and say it supports the rebels with weapons and troops. Moscow has strongly denied the accusations, but acknowledged that separatists received support from what it called "Russian volunteers."
Fighting has dragged on as neither side is willing to make concessions in the conflict that has sparked the worst East-West standoff since the the end of the Cold War.