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strong>By Chris Covert Rantburg.com

Shelling and small arms attacks by Ukrainian forces on rebel positions continued Thursday in Yasinovataya, as elsewhere along the western line of contact, Ukrainian forces have intensified their artillery attacks on rebel positions according to Russian language news accounts.

According to a news release posted by the Donetsk ministry of defense, Ukrainian forces have caused more than 400 violations of the ceasefire Thursday. Artillery struck rebel positions in western Donetsk, including at Spartak, western districts of Donetsk city and at the airport, where Ukrainians pounded rebel positions for more than 30 minutes Thursday morning.

Since Tuesday little has changed at Yasinovataya: Ukrainian forces have moved forces including artillery spotters to block two roads leading into Gorlovka, at a road junction, where the rebels maintain a police checkpoint.

According to Russian military journalist Boris Rozhin, rebel positions have not changed since Wednesday with rebel positions remaining static along the western edge of the road junction, but firing on rebel positions remains intense.

Rebel military officials have identified the unit operating in the area as the Ukrainian 58th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade. Apparently, three rifle companies are the units in the van of the attack on Yasinovataya.

But artillery and small arms fire continues, including, charged the rebels, 152mm artillery. So far, no reports have emerged from either side of the use of the 122mm rocket artillery system, the BM-21 Grad (Hail) launcher, which is the preferred artillery platform for either side.

Two separate reports from reserve FSB Colonel Igor Girkin's novorusinform.org news website said that the fighting around the road junction has devolved into small infantry engagements, fighting over single residential buildings and for rooms within those buildings. The water filtration plant, which came under Ukrainian artillery fire in initial reports on Tuesday, according to one report, has been abandoned for now.

Rebels said that 59 artillery shells landed over an period of an hour in the Yasinovataya area overnight, Wednesday to Thursday night, concentrated in the police checkpoint, at a rate of one per minute. They also charge that the Ukrainians are not just firing on rebel troops, but on civilians as well.

Rebel officials say that the Ukrainians are trying to encircle Gorlovka, which is immediately to the north of the contested road junction. A second report in novorusinform.org said that artillery attacks using 82mm mortars continue around Zaiytsevo, which is immediately north of Gorlovka.

According to Rozhin, retired GRU Colonel Igor Bezler, formerly chief of police of Gorlovka and formerly a key commander in the early fighting in the Donetsk and Lugansk in the summer of 2014, indicated in a Live Journal post that the reason the Ukrainians have yet to advance beyond 300 meters from the road was because of fire from rebel 12.7mm heavy machine guns, which can,. he claimed, penetrate medium armor at the range of 500 meters. Rebel reports say that Ukrainian tank gunfire has been used to augment the Ukrainian attack, but in current reports it is unclear if tank gunfire includes 125mm tanks guns or 30mm autocannons.

Wrote Bezler: "Respect your opponent, and never count him dumber than yourself."

According to a Russian writer, Ruslan Yakubov, serving as a militiaman with the rebels, Ukrainians have deployed two volunteer battalions, the Lions Battalion and the Aydar Battalion, both of which are staffed with members of the Right Sektor Ukrainian political party.

Right Sektor has earned them the enmity of the Russian backed fighters, which have gone out of their way to fire on and kill their members.

A report from the Donetsk ministry of defense said that as many as 300 fighters have appeared at the line of contact near Yasinovataya. Another 60 were detected deploying to Volnovakha well to the west of Donetsk city, from Mariupol.

Ukrainian media has been curiously silent on the fighting near Yasinovataya, similar to the Ukrainians' silence during the rebels' Debaltsevo operation.

Chris Covert writes about foreign military issues for Rantburg.com. He can be reached at grurkka@gmail.com and on Twitter. You can read past articles about the 2014 war in southeastern Ukraine by clicking here.

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