The fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine is under threat after observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported heavy shelling in the village of Shyrokyne, near Mariupol, on Sunday.
In a statement released in the small hours of Monday morning, the OSCE said its Special Monitoring Mission observed “intense shelling” between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists in Shyrokyne on April 26.
"For the last 12 hours, and on-going at the time of this report, the SMM has observed sporadic to continuous exchanges of fire involving small arms, machine gun, rocket propelled grenade and automatic grenade launcher," the statement said.
Explosions were recorded 1.5 kilometres west of the village all the way to the government-held city of Mariupol.
One of the explosions took place just 300 metres away from an observation post used by the monitoring body, forcing its team to move over security concerns, added the statement.
According to the OSCE, a total of 69 outgoing tank shells, 191 outgoing 82-millimetre mortar rounds and 153 outgoing 120mm mortar rounds were fired in some of the heaviest clashes the area has seen since the fighting began in mid-February 2015.
The observers also noted a drone had spotted the movement of 11 tanks and four infantry-mounted armoured personnel carriers moving through rebel held territories 15 kilometres north of the village, further indicating an increase of militant activity in the region over the past three days.
The information retrieved by the body’s surveillance drones suggests pro-Russian rebels have not withdrawn heavy weapons from the frontline in accordance with the Minsk 2 agreement, which was signed between the Ukrainian government and rebel leaders in the Belarusian capital on Feb. 15.
Last week, US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf accused Russia of building up its air defence equipment in rebel-held areas, including the usage of Russian unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as training pro-Russian separatist rebels in the region.
"The training has also incorporated, an unmistakable sign of Russian presence," Harf said.
On April 16, the OSCE also reported that three ceasefires organised by the Joint Centre for Control & Coordination (JCCC) between rebels and troops were broken within minutes by an “unidentified third party,” indicating Russian involvement.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is due to meet with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk in Kiev on Monday to seek EU support for the ceasefire.
It is believed Poroshenko will ask the EU to send peacekeepers to the region to enforce the truce in the first meeting between himself and EU leaders since an Association Agreement was signed last June.
This economic and political pact signed between the EU and Ukraine was described by Poroshenko as Ukraine's "first but most decisive step" towards the EU membership.
However, the EU agreed to delay the implementation of the plan until January 2016, amid Russian concerns that the deal may result in cheap goods from Ukraine affecting the Russian market.
Poroshenko previously called for a stronger peacekeeping force along his country’s border with Russia as well as breakaway regions Donetsk and Luhansk, stating the OSCE has faced “great difficulty performing their duties” in the buffer zone.
Over 6,000 people have been killed since fighting broke out in the region last year, following the deposing of pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country following pro-EU protests in Kiev.
The crisis led to the autonomous government in Crimea, which is dominated by ethnic Russians, to declare independence from Ukraine and eventually be annexed by Russia following a referendum.
Western nations have since punished Russia by enforcing crippling economic sanctions, which have put the country into recession and led to the devaluation of its rouble currency.
The sanctions, however, may be lifted if Russia sticks to its side of the Minsk 2 agreement.