KIEV, Ukraine -- Pro-Russian insurgents inflicted the biggest death toll on Ukraine’s forces since President Petro Poroshenko called off a truce, with Kiev authorities saying heavy weaponry continued to flow across the border.
Separatists on Friday killed 23 soldiers and wounded 93 in fighting near the frontier with Russia, military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said by phone. Ukraine uncovered evidence of Russian-made mortars taken across the border and set up into firing positions by artillery units that entered from Russia by car, Mr. Seleznyov said in a separate statement.
With government forces moving to tighten an encirclement around the militants, Ukraine lashed out at Russia and pledged retaliation against the secessionists. After retreating from their former strongholds of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk last week, the rebels have continued to attack Ukrainian troops across the easternmost provinces.
“For every life of one of our soldiers, the militants will pay with dozens and hundreds of theirs,” Mr. Poroshenko, who ended the cease-fire July 1, said Friday in Kiev. “Every single one will be held accountable and get their due.”
As the unrest threatened to reignite the conflict, the European Union added 11 names to a list of people it has sanctioned for supporting the insurrection. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has denied the charges that it is aiding the rebels.
The insurgents are now preparing for a siege in Donetsk, where they said they may have to evacuate 100,000 civilians. An average of 1,200 people are streaming out of the conflict zone every day, Ukraine’s Ministry of Regional Development said.
In Friday’s fighting, some of the soldiers died after being hit by fire from Grad rocket systems near Zelenopillya, a village about 3 miles from Ukraine’s eastern frontier, Mr. Seleznyov said. The attack came from the direction of the Russian border, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Andriy Lysenko.
Ukraine is targeting militant bases with air strikes, hitting installations set up on the territory of a mine near Krasnodon and killing militants stationed there, Mr. Seleznyov said. Rebel positions were also attacked near Holmovskyi and Perevalsk, with a base destroyed near Dzerzhynsk, he said.
A day earlier, the ministry said Ukrainian forces killed more than 50 insurgents in air strikes near Donetsk, the biggest city in the country’s conflict zone.
Even as new tensions flared, Ukraine had its credit-rating outlook raised Friday to stable from negative by Standard & Poor’s after the country got a $17 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund. S&P said it could raise Ukraine’s ratings if the geopolitical environment improves. “Tensions between Ukraine and Russia, and the conflict in eastern Ukraine continue to weigh heavily on Ukraine’s political and economic stability,” S&P said. “We do not anticipate that the geopolitical environment will stabilize in the short term.”
EU governments imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 11 more people accused of fomenting unrest and will publish the names today, the 28-nation bloc said in a statement in Brussels. Most of the new targets are separatists, an EU official said before the announcement. The EU has blacklisted 72 people and two companies connected with the destabilization of Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.
The EU’s first opportunity to consider wider penalties on Russian industry, investment or trade will be at a summit Wednesday. Objections by countries such as Italy, Austria, Slovakia, France and Greece have frustrated moves toward broader sanctions, which require unanimity.
While Russia has made some steps toward helping ease tensions, “more could be done,” Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak said in an interview Friday in Dubrovnik, Croatia. “The situation hasn’t changed dramatically, qualitatively, for us to enter that new level of sanctions.”