Ukraine crisis: Poroshenko says peace deal in danger

UkRAINE’S president has warned that a deal to end the war in the east is in “great danger” after heavy fighting ahead of Saturday night’s ceasefire.

Petro Poroshenko also accused Russia of “significantly increasing” its offensive despite the peace agreement reached in Minsk on Thursday.

The US ambassador to Ukraine that he said showed Russian artillery near Debaltseve.

Shelling was heard in the rebel-held city of Donetsk early on Saturday.

Fierce battles are said to be continuing around Debaltseve, a strategic government-held town almost encircled by rebel forces.

The BBC’s David Stern in Kiev says that as the clock ticks down to the ceasefire, fears are rising that it won’t be observed.

More than a dozen civilians are said to have died in shelling in eastern Ukraine on Friday.

It is unclear who was behind the shelling but both the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions accuse each other of targeting residential areas.The presidents of France, Russia and Ukraine as well as the German chancellor – who together clinched the agreement in the Belarusian capital – are due to discuss the issue by phone over the weekend.

The UN Security Council will also meet in emergency session on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the US has said it is very concerned by reports of heavy weapons coming across the border from Russia.

The US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, also said on Twitter that Russian units along the border were preparing a large shipment of supplies to separatist fighters.

He pointed to satellite images of what he said was Russian artillery north of the strategic hub of Debaltseve, taken on Thursday.

Correspondents say the fighting shows no sign of stopping.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Petro Mekhed said the rebels wanted to “raise their flag” over Debaltseve and the key port city of Mariupol before the midnight ceasefire (22:00 GMT) kicked in.

“Ukraine is expecting an escalation and taking all necessary measures to be able to respond,” Mr Mekhed told reporters.Rebel shelling killed two people in a cafe in Shchastya, near Luhansk, on Friday as well as a child near a school in Artemivsk, a town near Debaltseve, according to Kiev-controlled regional authorities.

Meanwhile, the rebels said at least six people had died in shelling in the city of Donetsk and town of Horlivka. The rebels accuse government forces of shelling the towns.

“After what we achieved in Minsk this is not just shelling of Ukrainian civilians and residential neighbourhoods – this is an attack on our Minsk achievements, without any explanations,” President Poroshenko said.

“Unfortunately, after Minsk, Russia’s offensive operations have intensified,” he said, before adding: “We are still convinced that the Minsk achievements are in a big danger.”

There were also reports of a government offensive near Mariupol, the city between rebel-held eastern areas and the southern Crimea peninsula, which was annexed by Russia last March.The group responsible for monitoring the ceasefire said it remained hopeful, despite there being “quite serious live fire” in several areas on Friday.

“We feel that the Minsk agreements are really the only available roadmap to a sustainable ceasefire,” Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the OSCE, told the BBC.

In another development, a consignment of armoured vehicles from the UK has been delivered to Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence confirmed.

It said they were out-of-service, unarmed vehicles and were not lethal equipment.

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