2 Ukrainian soldiers killed, 1 wounded in country’s east

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The Ukrainian military said Friday two soldiers were killed and another was wounded under fire from Russia-backed separatist rebels in the country’s east, where hostilities have increased sharply in recent months.

According to Ukraine’s military, 36 soldiers have been killed in the east this year.

Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014.

More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled.

Russia, which claims it has no military presence in eastern Ukraine, fuelled new tensions this year by massing troops and conducting large-scale military exercises near its border with Ukraine.

The Russian troop buildup raised alarms in the West.

‘Nobody’ favours escalation of tensions

On Thursday, foreign ministers from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg visited the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in a show of support and on Friday met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

“Dialogue is a way forward because nobody has any interest to see … the situation escalating in Donbas. And the Benelux and the EU are convinced that dialogue are the way to a solution and conflict resolution,” Sophie Wilmes, Belgium’s deputy prime minister, told a news conference after the meeting with Kuleba.

From left, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands Stephanus Blok, Belgium’s Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes and Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn walk together in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Friday. (Ukrainian Foreign Minister Press Office/The Associated Press)

Zelensky, according to a statement released by his office, thanked the foreign ministers for starting their visit to Ukraine with a trip to the east.

“I think it’s important not to know what is happening there in words, but to see everything with your own eyes. I know that you were in the town of Shchastya in the Luhansk region. You saw for yourself our attitude towards Donbas. We are investing in infrastructure,” Zelensky was quoted as saying.

The foreign ministers’ meeting with Zelensky comes a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Ukraine president in Kyiv and reaffirmed Washington’s support for Ukraine in the wake of the heightened tensions with Russia.

Both Zelensky and Blinken noted that while Russia has pulled back some of its forces from the border with Ukraine, a significant number of troops and equipment are still there, posing a threat.

A Ukrainian soldier points at a passing helicopter as he stands in a trench on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk, Ukraine, on Monday. (Felipe Dana/The Associated Press)



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