Poroshenko stressed that a withdrawal of military equipment and heavy weapons required a “full and unconditional” ceasefire under the Minsk agreement, his press service said. OSCE said rebels had denied its observers access to Debaltseve. Both sides blamed what firing there was on the enemy. But Debaltseve has been the focus of fighting for weeks, and it will be hard to speak of a truce if Ukrainian troops remain trapped there under fire, or the rebels press on with their advance.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday’s peace deal including the truce must be implemented “unconditionally”. But he made no mention of whether Moscow believed the truce applied to Debaltseve. Ukrainian forces have been holding out for weeks in the town, which sits astride a railway junction in a pocket between the two main rebel strongholds.
Rebels say they have completely encircled the town, but Ukraine says its forces have kept open a road to resupply it in the face of a Russian-backed onslaught. Washington says regular Russian forces armed with tanks and missile launchers advanced on the town from all sides in the days before the truce. Reuters journalists operating on the rebel side have seen armoured columns of troops without insignia arriving in the area in recent days.
In the main rebel center, Donetsk, Reuters journalists said artillery had been exploding every few seconds in the hours before the ceasefire, but halted abruptly at midnight. A Ukrainian military spokesman said the ceasefire was being “generally observed”. Its forces had been shelled 10 times since the truce took effect in localized incidents, and no soldiers had been killed.