Russian backed separatists forced Ukrainian troops, from the 72nd Armoured Brigade based in Zolote, Luhansk region, to withdraw on February 18th, 2020. This has been the most intense engagement since the conflict broke out in 2014. This does not bode well for the ongoing peace negotiations. The Ukrainian TSN TV news service reported that not only separatists staged an assault but also that Russian mercenaries (Wagner) hit civilian neighborhoods in the surrounding area. 

The Ukrainian Joint Forces (JFO) has also confirmed that the Russian separatists conducted shelling along the entire front line, something they have not been observed doing since 2015. The Ukrainian military has responded by returning fire, with the use of 82 millimeters motors and small arms engagements. The news outlet “UNIAN “is reporting that Ukrainian positions near the villages of Novotoshivske, Orikhove, Krymske, and Khutir Vilny came under attack on February 18th. 

Following the confrontation, one Ukrainian soldier has died and four have been wounded — all are considered to be in a stable condition. The Russian separatists did not walk away unscathed with at least four dead and six injured. 

On the flip side, Russia said that the Ukrainian military tried to break through the rebel lines, but they got trapped in a minefield. According to Russia, the actions of the separatist were in response to Ukrainian aggression. The leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), Leonid Pasechnik, said that Ukrainian soldiers had tried but failed to infiltrate the rebel-held territory.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said the rebel “provocation” would not derail Kyiv course to achieving peace.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, flanked by Ruslan Khomchak, military commander of Ukraine’s military, speaks at a briefing following an outbreak of violence with pro-Russian separatists on Feb. 18, 2020.

While I endorse the president’s approach to peace in the region, I cannot help but think that this is a wrong move by the Ukrainian government. Failure to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty would be an unjustified action towards all the men and women who have laid down their lives while trying to regain those territories. Trying to create a deal with your enemy whilst they have the upper hand will always result in failure. According to my sources on the ground in Ukraine (disclaimer: a lot of them are in the military), Ukrainian personnel feels that such a deal would only create further chaos and cause a backlash from the Ukrainian population.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed the lives of over 13,000 people. The conflict goes back to April 2014 when Russian-backed separatists seized areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This was a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Throughout the years there have been several ceasefire agreements; up to this point, all of them have failed. This begs the question: can a new peace agreement really solve the conflict in eastern Ukraine?