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Sporadic Shelling Continues As Ukraine Truce Takes Effect

Members of the Ukrainian armed forces ride on a military vehicle not far from Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine on Sunday.
Gleb Garanich
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces ride on a military vehicle not far from Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine on Sunday.

The cease-fire in eastern Ukraine appears to be largely holding — at least for the moment, defying skepticism that the second truce in six-months between government forces and Russian-backed separatists might immediately collapse.

The cease-fire went into effect at midnight Sunday (Saturday at 5 p.m. ET).

The Washington Post reports: "Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and pro-Russian rebel leaders ordered their fighters to hold fire just after midnight Sunday, bringing a tenuous pause to fighting that had been rapidly escalating in recent days, with violence ratcheting up particularly strongly since the two sides agreed to the midnight deadline in peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday."

On Sunday, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin was quoted by Reuters as saying that the package of measures making up the latest Minsk agreement must be "unconditionally observed" for the deal to hold.

Even so, The Associated Press says that regular shelling could still be heard today from Luhansk and The Guardian says there was "steady shelling [in the morning] near the besieged city of Debaltseve," where some 8,000 Ukrainian troops have been under attack in recent weeks.

Reuters quotes a senior rebel commander as saying the separatists have the right to fire on Debaltseve because it is "our territory."

The Wall Street Journal adds:

"In the run-up to the deadline, each side accused the other of preparing to breach the agreement brokered by European leaders.

" The truce is seen as a possible last chance to put an end to a surge in the deadly fighting, which has killed more than 5,000. But a previous deal in September collapsed, and doubts about the implementation of the new agreement grew as both sides squabbled over the specifics and violence continued."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.