A long-sought cease-fire appears to be holding in eastern Ukraine, raising hopes that a truce negotiated in February may finally bring peace between Ukrainian national forces and Russian-backed separatists.
No Ukrainian troops died in combat so far this week, the Ukrainian military said, and international monitors report that fighting has fallen to the lowest levels in more than a year, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Ukrainian government and separatist forces continue to maintain large forces close to each other, but the current calm “is quite unprecedented,” Michael Bociurkiw, an OSCE spokesman in Kiev, told USA TODAY. “Since the signing of first Minsk accord (cease-fire) in September of last year, I can’t recall a period like this.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after meeting in Moscow with his French, Russian and Ukrainian counterparts on Saturday that the ministers agreed to start removing land mines, according to the Associated Press. He said he hoped the warring parties will pull back heavy weapons from the front.
Fighting broke out in April 2014 after Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea province and annexed it. Since then, about 8,000 people have died in the fighting, according to U.N. estimates.
The new calm comes as Russia appears to be ramping down its support of separatist forces in Ukraine’s breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, according to analysts who follow the conflict closely.
Russia has denied sending weapons or troops into eastern Ukraine, although numerous journalists and officials from the U.S. State Department, NATO andEuropean nations have documented Russian support to the separatists and participation in the fighting.