Two Ukrainian soldiers killed, 16 wounded in fresh fighting

The Ukrainian government and Western states have criticised Russia's backing of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, like those seen here in 2016 near the town of Shakhtarsk in the breakaway Donetsk region

Ukraine's army reported Saturday two soldiers killed in clashes with Russian-backed rebels, in a new uptick in violence across eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters that two servicemen were killed and another 16 wounded in the past 24 hours, accusing insurgents of using heavy weapons against government troops.

A rebel spokesman in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic meanwhile said that one of its fighters had been killed, the rebels' news agency reported.

The latest casualties along eastern Ukraine's volatile frontline come despite the warring sides announcing a truce deal in February that has failed to stop the violence entirely.

International monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Friday that they had "recorded double the number of ceasefire violations" compared to the previous week.

The deputy head of the OSCE's monitoring mission, Alexander Hug, said Friday that 16 civilians had been killed in the region since the start of the year.

The OSCE said Saturday that two mortar rounds had exploded near its monitors' cars in a rebel-controlled village northwest of the government-held city of Mariupol on Friday.

No monitors were injured in the incident, the OSCE said.

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the start of a pro-Russian insurgency in 2014 which Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of masterminding.

That conflict, and Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, have pushed ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

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