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Ukraine’s Zelensky to visit frontline after surge in clashes with separatist forces

Published: Updated:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was traveling on Thursday to the frontline of the country’s fighting with eastern separatist forces, after a surge in violence and a spike in tensions with Moscow.

Zelensky was due to visit positions where a ceasefire “has been systematically violated in recent days” and Ukrainian soldiers killed or wounded, the presidency said in a statement.

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The purpose of the trip was to “maintain the fighting spirit” of the army, the presidency said.

Another soldier was killed early on Thursday after separatists opened fire on Ukrainian positions in the Donetsk region with mortars and artillery, the Ukrainian military said, bringing to 25 the number of its troops killed since the start of the year.

Fears have been mounting of a major escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled separatists in the mainly Russian-speaking Donbas region since 2014.

Ukraine last week accused Russia of massing thousands of military personnel on its northern and eastern borders as well as on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow.

Kiev’s Western allies have rushed to its defense with a series of statements warning Russia against taking further action and seeking explanations for its troop build-up.

The Kremlin has not denied the troop movements but insisted that Moscow was “not threatening anyone.”

The reports of a Russian build-up follow a dramatic increase in clashes along the frontline in recent weeks, with Ukraine announcing new deaths of its soldiers almost daily.

The conflict broke out in 2014 following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and has since claimed more than 13,000 lives.

The separatists are widely seen as having Russia’s political and military backing, which Moscow denies.

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