Pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine are stocking up on ammunition, rockets, armored carriers and other equipment to prepare for new battles, the Ukrainian military has warned. Government officials said they recorded militants gearing up to fight just outside Mariupol, a strategic port seen as the next major battleground in the ongoing conflict.
Andriy Lysenko, anti-territory operation spokesman, told reporters at a briefing in Kyiv Wednesday that the rebels had not slowed down. "The adversary is regrouping and restoring the fighting capabilities of its forces, stocking up on ammunition and equipment. Despite claims by the gang leaders of the so-called DPR and LPR [the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics] about them having started to remove military hardware from the dividing line in accordance with the Minsk agreements, for the past two days we have been registering movement of Grad rockets, armored carriers, off-roaders, and a significant amount of vehicles carrying ammunition and personnel across the Izvarino checkpoint from Russia," Lysenko said, according to media reports. "We have registered movement of a large number of tanks, Grad rockets and other military hardware towards the city of Novoazovsk."
Rebels were moving damaged military equipment to Russia to restore its fighting capabilities, Lysenko said. The rebels were behind at least 17 shellings against Ukrainian positions in recent days. They have also used tanks, self-propelled artillery weapons and tube artillery to conduct attacks. "The attacks have been repelled, without any losses," Lysenko said.
Russia faces new European Union sanctions if the pro-Russia separatists take Mariupol, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned Wednesday. "The problem today is particularly around Mariupol. We've told the Russians clearly that if there was a separatist attack in the direction of Mariupol things would be drastically altered, including in terms of sanctions," Fabius told France Info radio.
A Mariupol victory would allow the rebels to form a land bridge between Russia and Crimea, which now have no direct links.
"Starting at night, they would fire at us just to stop us from sleeping. They did this all night," a Ukrainian soldier named Andrei told The Associated Press after fleeing Debaltseve. "Then in the morning, they would attack, wave after wave. They did this constantly for three weeks."