Rebels who supposedly have the support of Russia have decided to launch a new offensive against Ukrainian forces on Monday, shattering a ceasefire that lasted for five months.
According to Laura Mills of the Associated Press, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine's army for the uptick in violence in the region, accusing them of using civilians as "cannon fodder" in the conflict. He made those televised comments after meeting with students in St. Petersburg.
"(Ukraine's army) is not even an army, it's a foreign legion, in this case a foreign NATO legion," Putin said. "They have totally different goals, connected to the geopolitical containment of Russia, which absolutely do not coincide with the national interests of the Ukrainian people."
The Associated Press reported that Putin made the comments after a rocket attack in the Ukrainian coastal city of Mariupol killed 30 people on Saturday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reinforced Putin's stance, accusing the West of exploiting the tragedy in Mariupol to "whip up anti-Russian hysteria."
"To expect that they (the rebels) would simply reconcile themselves to being bombed would be naive," Lavrov said. "They started to act... with the goal of destroying Ukrainian army positions being used to shell populated areas."
According to Natalia Zinets and Denis Dyomkin of Reuters, the United States and the European Union are considering new measures against Russia, accusing the country of supporting the rebels' cause with money, arms and troops on the ground. President Barack Obama told the Associated Press on Sunday that he will "ratchet up the pressure on Russia" with help from European partners.
In the meantime, an article from Agence France-Presse reported that Ukrainian officials are preparing to evacuate children in the war-torn zones of eastern Ukraine following the deaths of nine people, seven of them soldiers, in the latest attack.
"As a result of shelling, Ukraine has lost seven soldiers while 24 were injured," army spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said, adding that rebels had fired 115 times.
Ukraine Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk ordered all territories in the affected region to be on high alert due to escalating tensions in Luhansk and Donetsk, where separatist rebels have control.
"The government has decided to introduce a state of emergency in Donetsk and Luhansk regions and a state of high alert across all territories," Yatseniuk said at a government meeting.
According to the Associated Press, the city of Mariupol had been relatively quiet for months before Saturday's attack. However, if the rebels successfully wrestle control away from Ukrainian forces, the strategic Black Sea port would be able to connect the separatist-controlled area with a land corridor to Crimea, which is currently under Russian control.
Over 5,100 lives have been lost so far in the nine-month conflict between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces.