Ukrainian officials claim that pro-Russia forces operating in the east of the country have carried out the heaviest shelling of government positions in a year.
“The rebels launched more than 500 mortar and over 300 artillery shells at our positions,” Military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said Thursday, adding that the strikes had doubled from the previous day.
Tensions between Kiev and Moscow began to soar last week when the Kremlin accused Ukraine of plotting to make armed incursions into Crimea, a former Ukrainian territory which rejoined Russia after a referendum in 2014.
Motuzyanyk, who was speaking to reporters in Kiev, said three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and six were wounded in clashes that erupted between government forces and pro-Russians.
“The last time we witnessed a similar intensity of fire using heavy armaments was a year ago,” he said of the confrontation along the 30-kilometer-wide (19-mile-wide) buffer zone splitting government forces from the pro-Russians.
Violence subsided in eastern Ukraine after a ceasefire agreement was reached in February 2015 between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. However, sporadic clashes continued on the frontline, with the two sides accusing each other of violating the truce.
Ukraine and its Western backers accuse Russia of involvement in the conflict in the east. Moscow denies the charges.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko reacted to the surge in violence, saying that could be a prelude to a full-scale Russian “invasion.” He even sent his top army commander into the war zone.
“The likelihood of the conflict’s escalation remains very high,” Poroshenko said, warning that he “does not exclude a full-scale Russian invasion along all fronts.”