For the first time in 18 months not a single shell was fired in eastern Ukraine Friday, according to some frontline reports and remarks by Ukrainian President Petro Porshenko during a conference in Kiev.
Despite the lull, however, two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and four were wounded after their patrol struck a mine outside a village near Donetsk, according to a Twitter account run by the Ukrainian government.
The relative calm comes after the Ukrainian parliament voted to decentralize some powers from Kiev in an effort to give more autonomy to local regions, including areas in Donetsk and Luhansk, currently controlled by Russian-backed separatists. The vote was one of the stipulations of the Minsk ceasefires–a series of agreements signed in September 2014 and February 2015 that did little, until recently, to stem the violence.
If the Minsk Agreements are not fully implemented this year, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France have agreed to roll-over the peace deal into 2016 according to a report by Reuters.
“It is much quieter but the potential for [the conflict] to flame up is still there,” said Alexander Hug, Deputy Chief Monitor of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s special monitoring mission to Ukraine, in a phone interview.
Both sides, he said, need to move their heavy weapons—including tanks and artillery—off the front lines. Even then, he said, it would take months and a “significant effort” to remove mines and clear unexploded ordnance from areas affected by the conflict.
While the situation is stable for now, large numbers of Russian troops and equipment remain in Ukraine or are positioned near its eastern border. On Wednesday Reuters reported that Russia had started building a large military base near the Ukrainian border. The base, the report said, would be able to house several thousand troops and large stockpiles of ammunition.
Porshenko on Friday repeated claims that Russia had fueled the conflict in the country’s east.
“A full withdrawal of all occupation forces from Ukrainian territory and closing the Ukrainian-Russian border, these are the two main preconditions for peace and stability in the Donbass,” said Porshenko, referring to separatist-controlled regions in the east.
Although fighting has abated for now, U.S. troops continue training Ukrainian soldiers in the western part of the country.
The training program, which began late last year, initially focused on Ukrainian National Guard troops, but according to Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, that program is set to transition to training regular troops in the coming weeks.
“The National Guard finishes training [in] a week or two and then it’ll be their formal military’s that’s being trained,” Reed told small group of reporters Wednesday.
Despite the lull in attacks, Reed said he still believes that Ukrainian troops should continue to receive training from the United States and that he supports providing Ukrainian forces with “lethal aid.”
Since March 2014 the U.S. has provided over $220 million in non-lethal aid to the Ukrainian military, mostly in the form of counter-artillery radar, body armor and night vision devices.
According to a new human rights report released by the United Nations, almost 8,000 people have died and more than 17,000 have been wounded in Ukraine since the conflict began in April 2014.