KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Government troops and Russian-backed separatists largely suspended hostilities in east Ukraine Tuesday in a fresh attempt to revive a largely ignored cease-fire deal.
The lull in fighting followed a proposal by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to hold a “day of silence” as a precursor to a possible long-standing settlement.
The seven-month long conflict has left more than 4,300 people dead, displaced hundreds of thousands and exhausted a nation struggling to stave off economic collapse.
Separatist rebel leaders have supported the truce, which appeared to be holding around the main rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Viktor Myzhenko, chief of Ukraine’s General Staff, said at a midday briefing that there had been two violations of the truce Tuesday morning around the town of Debaltseve, which has been scene of some of the heaviest shelling.
Myzhenko said the truce was open-ended and that no end date had been set.
Intense shelling continued right up until the eve of the cut-off period for hostilities, causing at least four deaths and injuries to 10 people. Local authorities said 20 residential buildings were damaged in rebel-controlled Donetsk.
Poroshenko’s office earlier this week announced new peace talks involving Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to be held Tuesday in the capital of Belarus, Minsk. Vasiliy Vovk, head of the Ukrainian security services’ investigative department, said Monday night that the talks had been pushed back to Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov struck a conciliatory note Tuesday, suggesting that Moscow could support the return of separatist areas into Ukraine’s fold. Lavrov told state news agency RIA-Novosti that rebels were ready “to restore a common economic, humanitarian and political space” with Ukraine.
Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.