donetsk ukraine
A woman cries as the block of flats in which she lives burns, a result of shellingMaxim Shemetov/Reuters

Yesterday in Minsk the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany adopted a ceasefire agreement which will bring a cessation to the fighting which has ripped through Ukraine.

However the ceasefire does not come into effect until 12am on Sunday (15 February), and the rebels are using every remaining second to conquer as much territory as possible, and maximise their chances of securing a favourable position in the post-conflict settlement.

The military experts say that the main target for rebels now is Debaltseve in the Donetsk region, which is a key transportation hub for the whole of the Donbass. All electrified railway branches, which connect Donetsk and Lugansk, run through Debaltseve, as does a key road corridor.

Cynics suggest it is vital to have a controlled rapid transport corridor between Russia and the Donetsk/Lugansk region, as this will facilitate the smooth moment of troops and weapons. In addition, Debaltseve will allow the rebels to transport coal from those territories under the control of the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics.

Even if the Ukrainian military stand and refuse to cede the town before the ceasefire, the rebels will have a great opportunity to capture it, as soon as the 'peace' begins. The Ukrainian side will have to withdraw all its troops at least 50km from the front line. This is clearly stated in paragraph 1 of the agreement signed in Minsk yesterday.

Trying to capture the territory on the evening of 13 February, just hours after the ceasefire was signed, the separatists fired 25 times to Debaltseve and the surrounding villages, using artillery and BM-21 launchers to propel Grad missiles.

"Approximately at 8 pm on the western outskirts of the city the enemy fired using multiple BM-27 rocket launchers called "Hurricanes", reads a report from the anti-terrorist operation.

The separatists are also continuing to use cluster munitions, which have been prohibited by international convention since 1 August 2010.

Ukraine crisis and Minsk agreement
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces ride on an armoured personnel carrier (APC) near Debaltseve, eastern UkraineGleb Garanich/Reuters

During the 24 hours after the ceasefire was signed, the shelling in Donetsk killed 11 Ukrainian military and injured 40 more. The Ukrainian troops were fired on a total of 111 times.

The last day has also witnessed a number of civilian casualties. The separatists fired on a cafe in the town of Shchastya, using their artillery, and it is has been confirmed that two people died with a further three wounded.

Meanwhile, the soldiers of the Ukrainian Azov regiment evacuated the residents of Shyrokhino, which was subjected to a massive shelling with Grad missiles and mortars during the last two days. People spent two days in the basement, without water and electricity, wracked by cold and hunger.

Leaving their native village, people were crying from despair, because they never even imagined that the war would reach their own yards. Now they are in Mariupol, where they are helped by local volunteers and the Red Cross ones.

People are desperate, tired and confused, but really hope that in a few days, when the ceasefire finally starts, they will be able to go home and live peacefully.