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Truce in eastern Ukraine appears to be holding

Ukrainian soldiers assigned to the Yavoriv Combat Training Center attend a Ukrainian Armed Forces Day ceremony Dec. 6, 2017. (Sgt. Alexander Rector/U.S. Army)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A fresh truce between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine appears, for the most part, to be holding.

The cease-fire took effect at 12:01 a.m. local time on December 29 in the conflict zone of eastern Ukraine.

Fighting erupted there in April 2014, a month after Russia forcibly seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Some 10,300 people have died in the bloodshed since April 2014, although the violence has become more sporadic over time.

Ukraine’s military did register some separatist fire on their forces’ positions during the day on December 29, but said they suffered no casualties.

The separatists accused Ukrainian forces of numerous truce violations but reported no casualties that day, as well.

Moscow denies supporting the separatists either with arms or funds. But the International Criminal Court in November 2016 ruled the fighting in eastern Ukraine was indeed “an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.”

The current truce is scheduled to run through at least January 7, the day most Orthodox Christians will celebrate Christmas.

It was reached by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which consists of Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE.

Several cease-fires have been implemented in the region as part of the so-called Minsk agreements, but all have ultimately broken down amid mutual recriminations of violations.

The West has welcomed the latest truce, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

“The approach of the New Year’s and Orthodox Christmas holidays must serve as an opportunity for the stakeholders in the conflict in eastern Ukraine to focus on the needs of civilians, who have suffered all too long as a result of this conflict and its consequences,” the leaders said in a statement on December 28.

“The guarantee of a safe and secure environment should enable the implementation of crucial humanitarian measures. We now call on the parties to assume their full responsibilities, especially with regard to civilians in the area,” the statement said.

The French and German leaders also called for the immediate release of 24 Ukrainian sailors seized along with their three naval vessels last month by Russia near the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.

“We call for all ships using the Kerch Strait to be given safe, free, and unhindered passage, and for the immediate and unconditional release of the Ukrainian sailors. They, too, must be allowed to spend the holidays with their families,” Merkel and Macron said in the statement.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, rejected this appeal on December 29, saying demands to free the sailors were “unacceptable.”

Moscow alleged that the vessels had illegally entered Russian territorial waters near Crimea, whose annexation by Russia is largely rejected by the international community.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on December 29 that Russia would “act in accordance with Russian law” regarding the sailors, who are now being held inside Russia.