Ukrainian soldiers report intense shelling in front line, fear ‘provocations’

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© Reuters. A Ukrainian soldier holds a machine gun in a trench at a frontline position near the village of Travneve in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, Feb. 21, 2022. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

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By Serhiy Takhmazov

TRAVNEVE, Ukraine (Reuters) – Government forces in frontline trenches in eastern Ukraine said on Monday heavy arms fire from Russia-backed separatists had intensified to provoke a major conflict, fearing Russia would seek a pretext for a large-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces have fought Russian-backed forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions bordering Russia since 2014 in a conflict that Ukrainian leaders say has killed 15,000 people. A ceasefire deal in 2015 has halted the worst of the fighting, but shelling has intensified along the “line of contact” since last week as Russia has gathered troops along Ukraine’s borders.

Western governments have accused the Kremlin of preparing to concoct a pretext for a military offensive in Ukraine by blaming Kiev for attacks and relying on pleas for help from separatist proxies.

“It has become very hot (dangerous) here in recent days,” said a Ukrainian soldier, who identified himself with Chamomile, his nom de guerre, as he gave Reuters a tour of fortified trenches in the government-controlled sector of Trasneve.

“They are firing at us all along the front, with heavy mortars, 120 caliber, 150 caliber. It has become much more dangerous here,” he said.

“It’s probably to provoke us so we can return their fire. And they would — well, I’m guessing here — want to provoke us into all-out war,” he said, holding a sign behind him that read: “Warning : Sniper.”

Russia has denied any plan to attack its neighbor but has threatened unspecified “military-technical” action unless it is given sweeping security guarantees, including a pledge that Ukraine will never join NATO.

Another Ukrainian soldier who followed his Hurricane nom de guerre said separatist forces were out to reaffirm the threat posed by their heavy weapons.

“…They are always ready to provoke us, to provoke us more and thus blame us for their actions…” We can expect everything from them after eight years of war experience. Everything can happen. We are always prepared for the worst and hoping for the best.”

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