A fragile cease-fire between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels appears to be falling apart, as the separatists have been continued pushing toward the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Ukraine’s Coast Guard said it is confident it can defend the port, despite an attack by rebels late last month that killed two guardsmen. Ukraine’s Coast Guard has beefed up its defenses, saying it is prepared to protect the port city.
Meanwhile, the European Union will press ahead with implementing new sanctions on Russia later Monday despite the shaky cease-fire, the European Commission said.
The sanctions package is due to be formally implemented by the member states through a written procedure later today [Monday],” Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen told reporters.
Details will be published in the EU’s Official Journal on Tuesday at the latest, she said.
Despite the hoped-for cease-fire agreement, clashes continued between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of Mariupol, as well as near Donetsk.
But they will not be allowed to capture the port, said Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mykola Zhybarev.
“I want to say that Ukrainian people, our friends and our brothers, can be sure that we will carry out our mission. We will not retreat from our land. We are serving on our land and we will protect it,” Zhybarev said.
Rebels in late August fired missiles that sank one of the Coast Guard’s few ships, killing two guards and wounding several others.
It was the first maritime attack since the conflict in Ukraine’s east erupted in April, with armed separatists taking control of government offices.
To prevent a repeated strike, Coast Guard patrols changed tactics and became more active, said Captain Yuriy Loshak.
“We never expected them to use weapons from the shore on us. At that moment, the boat wasn’t threatening to any people on the coast or terrorists. It was just carrying out its duty defending our borders in the sea,” Loshak.
If the rebels were to seize Mariupol, they would gain port access to the sea and extend their coastal control.
They hope to form a corridor linking Russia to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in March.
Boats are Soviet-era
But the captain acknowledges the few boats they have date back decades to the Soviet era.
“We always need more boats, but we have what we have. All our boats are on full alert. All of them are properly functioning,” Loshak said.
Zhybarev said the government in Kyiv is giving them appropriate backing.
“Right now we are receiving lots of support. We get lots of supplies, both technical and fuel and oil, as well as a rotation of guards,” Zhybarev said.
Western nations are helping out by donating equipment, such as flak jackets from Canada.
And the U.S. Coast Guard is expected to deliver several rubber speed boats at the end of September.
But despite Zhybarev ‘s confidence, many worry Mariupol and its strategic port could be under rebel control by the end of the month.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.