Violence in Ukraine has escalated dramatically since last week, further unraveling the fragile cease-fire agreement between the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian separatists. Two civilians died as a result of the shelling of the village of Sartana, on the outskirts of Mariupol. The shelling damaged dozens of residential buildings; water, electricity and gas supplies to Sartana have been cut off. Casualties have been also reported close to rebel-occupied Horlivka, and along a strategic highway linking Mariupol with Donetsk.
Ukrainian authorities reported that close to 50,000 Russian troops have amassed along Ukraine's Eastern border. Ukrainians have expressed concerns that the recent spike in violence could be the beginning of a major new offensive to gain territory, or a provocation to disrupt Ukraine's Independence Day celebrations on August 24th. Mariupol remains one of the most likely targets for separatist attack, as it would allow the separatists to establish a land bridge to Crimea (a map below demonstrates Mariupol's strategic location).
Russia continues to deny its involvement in the conflict. Speaking during his visit to Crimea, President Vladimir Putin blamed the Ukrainian side for the escalation of the conflict. He also said that despite the unrest, Ukraine "will develop positively, and build its future together with Russia."
The EU expressed concerns about the uptake in fighting. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised the issue in a phone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
NCSEJ spoke with the Mariupol Jewish community representatives, who reported that despite the recent attack on the near-by town of Sartana, the Jewish community of Mariupol continues its work. However staying in the city has become dangerous again, as it was a year ago. Local Jews are looking for ways to send their children to Jewish schools in the cities outside of the war-torn regions, and to the Jewish university in Odesa.
A few days before the shelling, Jewish youth from Sartana finished their 12-day summer camp in Mariupol, where they learned more about Jewish traditions and participated in many cultural activities.