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Weekend Shelling Kills 30 People In Eastern Ukraine

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go next to eastern Ukraine, where officially there is a cease-fire. The reality is different. Over the weekend, shelling killed 30 people in the port city of Mariupol. Ukraine's government says pro-Russian separatists did this; the separatists deny it. We're going to talk it through with The Guardian's Moscow bureau chief, Shaun Walker, who's in Donetsk, a city not too far away. He's been covering the fighting. Welcome to the program, sir.

SHAUN WALKER, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: Given that everyone's denying everything, what did seem to happen here?

WALKER: Well, we've had a Human Rights Watch expert on the scene, and we've had international monitors from the OSCE on the scene. And both of those have been pretty clear. They've looked at the craters from this multiple-rocket attack, and they've said that it came from the East. And that means it came from territory controlled by the pro-Russian separatists. We've had here in Donetsk the leadership of those rebels denying that. They've said it's provocation. They said it was the Ukrainians doing it to themselves. And, you know, this conflict's really been full of these incidents of things happening and both sides blaming the other. But it does seem this time there's some pretty clear evidence that this has come from the rebels, so it's a pretty horrific act.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask because this happened in Mariupol. It's a port city. It's on the Black Sea, strategically located in this conflict. But I'm trying to figure out if there would be any strategic purpose in someone firing a series of rockets into that city and killing a bunch of civilians or if this just seems to be a random act.

WALKER: Well, there are all sorts of suggestions that Mariupol would be very useful for the pro-Russian rebels. It would be useful for Russia. It would pave the way for a land corridor between mainland Russia and Crimea, which, obviously, they annexed from Ukraine last year.

But really, taking the city of nearly half a million people - it would require a huge assault. It would require major urban warfare, probably hundreds, maybe thousands of casualties. And I don't think Russia or the rebels are ready for that yet. So this does look like a sort of isolated incident, possibly yet another horrible mistake, rather than the start of some sort of campaign to sort of wage terror on the city and take it over.

INSKEEP: What you're describing doesn't sound like much of a cease-fire.

WALKER: It doesn't, does it? I mean, you know, this cease-fire was signed in September, and it's never really held. There were a few weeks when there was relative calm. But certainly in the last few weeks, we've seen kind of upscale in the fighting. There's been hundreds of people killed. The rebels have said they're going on the offensive. And although we've heard Vladimir Putin say that it's Ukraine at fault for breaking the cease-fire, the rebels have said themselves that they think Ukraine is going to launch an attack in March or April, and so they're getting in there first. But either way, both sides are firing again. And of course, it's the civilians are in the middle who are suffering.

INSKEEP: Shaun Walker of The Guardian is in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Thanks very much.

WALKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.