RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The war in Ukraine is supposed to stop on Sunday. That's when a cease-fire agreement hammered out by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France takes effect. The question is, will it hold? For more, we are joined by Associated Press reporter Peter Leonard from Kiev. He has just returned from the front lines of the fight in Eastern Ukraine.
Peter, what was happening there? It sounds like there are still reports of a lot of fighting.
PETER LEONARD: Yes, absolutely. What we're seeing at the moment is mostly fighting around one town, which is called Debaltseve because the Russian-backed separatists are very keen to gain control of a railway hub that as they see it would enable them to link the two main cities under their control. And so what we're seeing is sort of a last attempt by the separatists to unseat the Ukrainians, and the battle is proving to be very bitter, indeed.
MARTIN: So even though a cease-fire is supposed to take effect on Sunday, you're saying that both sides are still jockeying for a position, trying to grab as much territory as possible before that deadline?
LEONARD: Precisely. It seems as though the clashes have intensified specifically because the cease-fire is coming. I think that the announcement of the cease-fire has essentially served as a starting pistol for more fighting.
MARTIN: Well, then what are the odds that this thing holds? I mean, if both sides are still actively trying to acquire territory and the fighting is still intense - you're saying even more intense - are both sides going to adhere to the cease-fire?
LEONARD: That's a very good question. In fact, I mean this isn't the first cease-fire that Ukraine has seen and this cease-fire, I think, is being viewed with profound skepticism by the citizens of Eastern Ukraine who are very doubtful that in fact it will hold. That is indeed an understandable concern.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about the deal that was struck? What concessions did both sides have to make in order to get this cease-fire?
LEONARD: The thing is that the rebel fighters sort of maintained until very recently that what they view as the territory that they would like to control is actually much larger than what they currently have, so they've agreed to this line of contact which sort of constitutes kind of a very big concession on their side. At the same time, you know, Ukraine is still keen to kind of make this whole kind of issue go away and reclaim total control over its territory. Instead it's had to agree to a very broad autonomy and amnesties for officials among separatists. So each side has given a little bit really, and ended up not having what it would like.
MARTIN: So where are we in this moment? This is, as you pointed out, the second cease-fire that has been called. Is this conflict anywhere close to being resolved?
LEONARD: It's hard to be optimistic about it because although a lot of blood has been shed and so I think battle exhaustion is really settling in, it's hard to see that either side will be content with the current solution because both sides clearly feel as though they're somehow wronged by a peace deal that deprives them of the territory which they both want, and so this seems, to me at least, like a very makeshift temporary deal.
MARTIN: I mean, this thing has dragged on for so long now, I wonder what you have heard in your reporting, conversations that you've had? Is there battle fatigue? Are people having any regrets, people who have supported the separatist movement?
LEONARD: The thing that I've come across is general fatigue and fear. And it's just that it's very hard to speak with people and when they ask you for sort of some idea - you as an outsider, as an observer, as a journalist - about whether, you know, any kind of end is in sight. They're just extremely tired. And even those who, as you rightly say, supported the separatists, may not have given up their latent support for them, but certainly whatever ardor they kind of felt for the rebels before is gone.
MARTIN: Peter Leonard of the Associated Press, speaking to us from Kiev, Ukraine. Thanks so much.
LEONARD: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.