As both Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate the Eastern Orthodox Christmas on Wednesday, three Ukrainian soldiers have been killed over the last 24 hours, according to Kiev’s military. The deaths are the latest violation of a ceasefire that has regularly been ignored since it was signed in September.
It also comes just one week before diplomats are to meet in Kazakhstan to discuss the latest attempts to bring lasting peace to East Ukraine.
The war between separatists backed by Russia and the Ukrainian government has claimed around 4,700 people. The bulk of the skirmishes center around the fight for the Donetsk International Airport. Two of the three soldiers who died were killed by mortar rounds at the airport. The other soldier was killed by a sniper, according to a Reuters report.
Despite the three deaths, fighting has been largely subdued in the runup to New Year and the Eastern Orthodox Christmas.
"In the past 24 hours, the situation in the east has not really changed. The terrorists carried out provocative attacks on the forces of the anti-terrorist operation in violation of the ceasefire," Ukrainian military spokesperson Andriy Lysenko said, using the term the Kiev government employs to describe separatists.
On Jan. 15, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is due to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the leaders of France and Germany in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan. The talks will aim to secure lasting peace while also paving a way to lift economy-crippling sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea earlier this year and for its involvement in the East Ukraine fighting.
Western powers have said that they would consider lifting sanctions if Russia withdrew its military equipment and troops from Ukraine and supported peace in the region, while France and Germany said they will only attend talks in Kazakhstan if there is a chance that real progress can be made.
Russia has repeatedly denied that its forces were involved in the war.