Thick plumes of black smoke are rising over the Donetsk airport, controlled by the Ukrainian forces. It's been burning for two days, and shooting has continued in both directions between rebel positions and the army.
Just 400 meters away from the airport, militants of Donetsk People's Republic, laugh out loud at the idea that there should be a cease-fire in that area, as per Sept. 5 multilateral agreements in Minsk signed by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, OSCE and Donestk and Luhansk People's Republics.
“Cease-fire? What cease-fire?” said Denis, a DNR fighter stationed just outside the airport.
Ukrainian forces retook the airport in May and since then it has been a fetish object for both sides.There has rarely been a day without fights for the airport despite the fact that it is almost useless since its runway was rendered unusable by heavy shelling.
The airport, however, is located only 9.4 kilometers from the center of Donetsk, making it a powerful symbol of Ukrainian military presence on the edge of the city.
“The enemy is in the middle of the city. We have to get rid of them,” said Denis from the now fortified bridge leading to the airport reconstructed for the Euro 2012 football championship at the cost of more than Hr 3.2 billion.
Ukrainian authorities blame the separatists for violating cease-fire and attempting to take over new ground, despite a new agreement over the weekend, under which both sides are supposed to be withdrawing.
“Yesterday fighters made several attempt to storm our positions in the vicinity,” said spokesman for the Ukrainian Security Council Andriy Lysenko adding that “all attacks were repulsed.”
DNR fighters stationed outside of the airport, however, deny attempting to take the airport and say they simply return fire when fired upon.
“They fire and we return fire in the same volume. If we know the position we return fire immediately. If we don’t, we scout it out with drones first,” said Denis, who declined to give his last name.
So far Ukrainian forces remain determined to defend the Donetsk airport after having pulled out of the Luhansk airport at the beginning of September. They are also in a better position to defend it.
“The Luhansk airport was between Donetsk and Luhansk and surrounded by separatist forces, but the Donetsk airport is at the front of the Ukrainian position,” said military expert Viacheslav Tseluiko.
Under a memorandum agreed to by both the Ukrainian government and the rebels on Sept. 19, a 30km (19-mile) buffer zone is supposed to be created where no heavy artillery would be allowed. If it is followed the protocol would not only mean removing Ukrainian artillery from the Donetsk airport, but also rebel artillery from Donetsk.
For now though fighting continues and separatists outside of the airport say they see no sign of the Ukrainian numbers at the airport decreasing.
“With the ceasefire they are firing less into the city. That is something,” said Denis, referring to Grad rocket strikes that have hit medical facilities and apartment blocks in Donetsk.
Editor’s Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from www.mymedia.org.ua, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action, as well as Ukraine Media Project, managed by Internews and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.