The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic announced Wednesday it would begin the drawback of larger mortars from the front lines in eastern Ukraine on Nov. 6, Russian state news agency Tass reported. The announcement comes at precarious moment after a Ukrainian soldier was killed Tuesday.
“After OSCE’s (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) mission completes verification of weaponry, we can say that all artillery systems of less than 100mm caliber are withdrawn,” said Hasan Kaloyev, Russian envoy to the Joint Center for Control and Coordination (JCCC), according to the Donetsk News Agency. “This will happen today.”
He said the pullback of mortars of less than 120mm caliber would begin Nov. 6. A Donetsk People’s Republic military unit commander, Ruslan Yakubov, said the 100mm caliber pullback had already begun its second stage.
“The distance from the current positions of the weaponry to the contact line is 11.7 kilometers. We will withdraw weapons further back to Ilovaysk,” he said. Artillery of less than 100mm caliber was expected to be pulled back along with 15 Rapira anti-tank guns. The weapon withdrawal will take place in three phases.
After Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris earlier this month, Ukrainian government forces began their own drawback of weapons from the frontlines in early October. Ukraine’s drawback included T-64 and T-72 tanks, some anti-tank artillery D-48 and D-44 and mortars.
While in recent weeks fighting has decreased along the frontlines, a Ukrainian soldier was killed Tuesday in a mortar exchange near the completely destroyed Donetsk airport, AFP reported. The fire fight underscored the fragility and unpredictability of a two-month truce, which began in September.
The Ukrainian government has reported five soldiers killed since Sept. 1. It is unclear how many separatists have died in the same period because they rarely publicly report their losses.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in April 2014 pitting Ukrainian government troops against Russian-backed separatists. The war has left over 8,000 people dead and displaced over 1.4 million. Russia has continued to deny any direct military involvement in the conflict and has repeatedly said that any Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine were there on vacation and not under government orders.