Eight soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine

- Ukrainian soldiers' deaths come less than two days before cease-fire comes into effect in eastern Ukraine.

KIEV (AA) – At least eight Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and another 34 wounded during clashes with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukraine’s Counterterrorism Center - less than 48 hours before a cease-fire is due to take effect.

The center, which is in charge of operations against pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east, said in a statement on Friday the deaths had come after separatists held at least 40 attacks in the east, including in residential areas.

Rebel pro-Russian separatists have reportedly surrounded the economic hub of Debaltseve on Friday. Debaltseve is a key point for coal supply to Ukraine. 

Rebel shelling during the night was as intense as before, with the heaviest fighting on a road and rail line connecting the rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, according to Anatoliy Stelmakh, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military. 

A truce is due to take place on midnight on Feb. 15, following an agreement reached during nearly 17 hours of talks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists had previously signed a cease-fire agreement in Minsk on Sept. 5, 2014, but both sides repeatedly violated it.

More than 5,300 people have been killed and 12,200 others injured in eastern Ukraine since mid-April last year in the ongoing conflict, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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