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Ukrainian soldiers ‘ready for any scenario’ as mortar shells explode near frontline, interior minister says


Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy, left, visits frontline soldiers in Novoluhanske, Ukraine, February 19. (Timothy Fadek/Redux for CNN)

A CNN crew and other journalists accompanying Ukraine’s interior minister on a tour of front lines in eastern Ukraine came under mortar fire on Saturday.

No one was hurt.

Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy took cover when several mortar shells landed nearby. Shortly after the bombing, he gave interviews to international media in Novoluhanske.

A dozen mortar shells landed a few hundred meters from the group.

Speaking to CNN before leaving the area, Monastyrskiy said: “We spoke with soldiers on the ground. The spirit is incredibly brave and all the guys are ready for any scenario.

He said it was the first time he had come under fire. He told reporters he was in the car on the way and they had to stop every time they heard shelling and they lay on the ground.

At a press conference later in Kramatorsk, Monastyrskiy was asked by CNN about the role Ukraine believed Russian military advisers were playing in the fighting in the east of the country.

“We have information about the advance of the Russian army along our territory,” he said. “There is also information that some units of the Wagner PMC have entered our territory. The purpose of the stay is to organize sabotage on our territory.”

A bit of context: Wagner is a private Russian paramilitary force that has long been associated with separatists in eastern Ukraine and has also deployed in Libya, Syria and the Central African Republic, among other countries.

The Russian government denies any connection to Wagner or other private military contractors.

Over the past few days, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have reported an upsurge in heavy weapons fire against Ukrainian positions along the so-called Line of Contact.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said that as of 5:00 p.m. local time (10:00 a.m. ET) on Saturday, “70 violations of the ceasefire regime have been recorded by the Russian occupation forces, 60 of them using prohibited weapons by the Minsk agreements”.

The ministry also said two Ukrainian servicemen were killed and four injured on Saturday.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov reiterated in a Facebook post on Saturday that Ukraine is not planning to launch an offensive against the breakaway regions, as claimed by the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk.

“We are not planning any offensive, but we will not allow firing at our troop positions and human settlements with impunity,” Reznikov said.

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