Ukraine Sees Worst Shelling in a Year, Seeks New Normandy Talks

  • Military says two more soldiers were killed overnight
  • OSCE warns of ‘potential humanitarian and ecological disaster’

Ukrainian tanks stationed outside the flashpoint town of Avdiivka on Feb. 2.

Photographer: Alexey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine reported the worst shelling in a year in its conflict with pro-Russian insurgents and said it wants a new round of international talks once the warring factions can agree on a lasting cease-fire.

Two soldiers and two civilians were killed as attacks intensified overnight, with the violence concentrated in Avdiivka, near the separatist stronghold of Donetsk. The government evacuated some of the town’s 22,000 residents after many lost heating and power amid freezing winter temperatures. The fighting, which each side blames on the other, is hindering repairs.

The bloodiest escalation in weeks is reigniting the conflict in Ukraine’s easternmost regions, where the death toll since it erupted almost three years ago is nearing 10,000 people. It follows Donald Trump’s ascension to the U.S. presidency and suggestions he’ll relax sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea and supporting the rebels. Calls are growing for international mediation that could revive a stalled 2015 peace plan brokered by Germany, Russia and France -- know together with Ukraine as the Normandy group.

“Regarding a Normandy-format meeting on the level of heads of state and governments, this issue is being discussed,” Kostyantyn Yeliseyev, deputy chief of the presidential staff, told a televised news conference Friday in Kiev, the capital. “But the timing for the meeting depends on one key factor: there must be a cease-fire.”

Both sides must withdraw weapons and stop advancing their positions forward, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. OSCE deputy mission head Alexander Hug called Avdiivka a “potential humanitarian and ecological disaster,” in video link Friday.

Ukraine said a tent camp distributing humanitarian aid was hit by a shell overnight on Thursday, deterring many from visiting.

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