LUHANSKE, Ukraine (AP) -- Intense artillery exchanges between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists persisted Monday around a strategic town in eastern Ukraine - fighting that threatens to dash a cease-fire deal brokered by European leaders last week.
Under a cease-fire agreement negotiated by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, the warring sides are to begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line Tuesday. That plan already looks at risk, with the rebels saying they are not satisfied that conditions are in place for the process to go ahead.
Associated Press reporters in Luhanske, a government-held town 15 kilometers (9 miles) northwest of the bitterly contested railway hub of Debaltseve, heard sustained shelling Monday. Some of the artillery appeared to be outgoing, suggesting it was being fired by Ukrainian troops.
Debaltseve, still in government hands, remains in contention despite the cease-fire. The rebels insist the town should revert to their control because they have encircled it. A loaded Grad rocket launcher was seen pointing in the direction of Debaltseve, but it was not fired while AP journalists were present.
Observers from the Organization from Security and Cooperation in Europe, who are supposed to monitor the cease-fire, said Sunday that separatists denied them access to Debaltseve.
Despite the cease-fire that went into effect early Sunday morning, five Ukrainian troops were killed and 25 were wounded in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Monday.
Separatist military official Eduard Basurin said in a televised news conference Monday that the government overnight lobbed artillery at Horlivka, a town under rebel control.
Ukraine, however, blamed that attack on the rebels. The government-appointed police chief of the Donetsk region, Vyacheslav Abroskin, said the separatists shelled the town in order to derail the truce.
The cease-fire appeared to hold elsewhere. The city hall of the rebel capital Donetsk, which came under heavy artillery fire in the past week, said on Monday that there was no fighting in the area.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of arming and supplying manpower to the separatists and have imposed a range of economic sanctions to pressure Moscow into changing its course. Russia denies all suggestions it is directly involved in the war in Ukraine but the sheer amount of heavy weapons the rebels have belies that claim.