Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have decided to withdraw heavy weaponry from the battlefield in eastern Donetsk after the Ukrainian government and the separatists blamed each other for ongoing shelling which has caused civilian deaths.
The self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk announced on Sunday that they will move heavy weapons including tanks and armored vehicles 3 kilometers away from the battleground.
The head of the Luhansk militia Sergei Kozlov told the Deutsche Presse- Agentur (DPA) news agency that “that is our unilateral step towards peace. We are showing the whole world that we are fulfilling the Minsk Agreement."
Speaking to the local DAN news agency, another commander from the separatist forces, Eduard Basurin, mentioned the possibility of the withdrawal being cancelled "if the Ukrainian side attempts to breach the front line, or conducts shelling endangering the lives of civilians or Donetsk army."
A Ukrainian army spokesman said that the Ukrainian army has not given any orders for a possible withdrawal.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), although Ukraine and the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk have agreed on the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, both the Ukrainian government and separatist forces have not applied the rules of the withdrawal agreement.
The pro-Russian separatists have accused Ukraine of shelling in the downtown Donetsk area, resulting in the death of civilians.
Ukraine, on the other hand, blamed separatist forces for the shelling in Donetsk.
Nearly 1.4 million people have been internally displaced in Ukraine since the conflict in the country began in March 2014. According to UNICEF, at least 174,000 of them are children.
The separatist war in Ukraine cooled after an OSCE mediated ceasefire was sealed in the Belarussian capital of Minsk, but the fragile peace has been sporadically violated by both Kiev forces and separatists.
The Kiev government has vowed to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko reiterating several times since the conflict started that his country will retake the breakaway regions.
The Ukrainian leadership still suspects Moscow is not abiding with the armistice agreed in Minsk, since violations have recently increased again in the Donbass region.
Moscow denies Kiev’s allegations and says that its soldiers have only been patrolling Russia’s porous border with eastern Ukraine.
The rebels accuse Ukrainian forces of intensifying attacks and firing at civilian areas.
More than 6,500 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine in April last year. Attacks have lessened since the peace agreement was brokered in Minsk five months ago, but both sides accuse each other of violations.