Fighting Persists in Ukrainian Hotspots as Casualties Rise

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Ukraine reported fresh attacks by pro-Russian forces at the most heavily contested points in its easternmost regions, adding to casualty numbers that rose this week to the highest in more than two months.

One Ukrainian soldier was killed and two were wounded, with some of the fiercest fighting near Donetsk airport and around the coastal city of Mariupol, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Wednesday. The death follows the killing of six soldiers on Tuesday, interrupting weeks of relative quiet. The pro-Russian rebels accuse Ukraine of plotting an offensive.

Militants “used mortars, grenade launchers and small arms,” Lysenko said. “Yesterday, tanks fired twice at our troops at Pisky” near Donetsk airport.’’

International monitors have reported a “massive increase” in truce violations this week. Ukraine and its allies in the U.S. and Europe accuse Russia of supplying the separatists with weapons, cash and fighters, stoking violence that’s killed more than 6,000 people. Russia denies involvement.

Russia on Wednesday sent 25 tanks and five Grad rocket-launch systems to territories controlled by militants in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics, the Unian news agency reported, citing Colonel Valentyn Fedichev, Ukrainian government deputy commander in those regions. More than 15 trucks also crossed the border into Ukraine, Unian said.

Breakaway Regions

President Vladimir Putin is getting requests to recognize Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk, Luhansk before Thursday’s annual call-in show, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state television.

While the conflict has left the hryvnia as this year’s worst-performing currency with a 27 percent plunge, the central bank has said this week that there are signs of stabilization.

Policy makers may cut their benchmark interest rate from 30 percent “quite soon,” Vitalii Vavryshchuk, head of the central bank’s financial-stability department, said Wednesday during a conference call.

He called the rate unsustainable and said limits on deposit withdrawals -- part of capital controls imposed to shore up the hryvnia -- may be scrapped.

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