Fighting rages in Ukraine ahead of cease-fire

- As countdown to Saturday's midnight cease-fire begins, fighting continues in Ukraine's Donbass region.

MOSCOW (AA) - Fighting in Ukraine's Donbass region between government forces and pro-Russian separatists continued throughout Friday and into Saturday in spite of a peace agreement signed in Minsk on Thursday. 

The first point of the agreement called for a total bilateral cease-fire set to begin at midnight Saturday.

Separatist forces have allegedly surrounded 7,000 to 10,000 Ukrainian security forces in Debaltseve, according to the separatists' deputy military commander Eduard Basurin. 

The Ukrainian ministry of defense disputed claims that its forces were surrounded.

"The excellent job of the Ukrainian artillerists and concentration of required forces in the specific region affirm that the pocket around this bridgehead will not be closed and Debaltseve will not be cut off of supplies and communications," a statement on the ministry's website said on Friday. 

Apart from Debaltseve and the surrounding area, Ukraine's defense ministry said that fighting had occurred near Mariupol and Lugansk.

Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in the Russian Federation has been posting a collection of satellite images, allegedly showing Russian military equipment in Ukraine, on its Twitter account. 

"We are sure that these are definitely Russian military systems and not those belonging to the separatists," read one of the tweets in Russian, accompanied by satellite photos, which allegedly show self-propelled artillery systems.

Fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists broke out in Ukraine's Donbass region in April 2014. 

In December 2014, the two sides managed to reach a cease-fire agreement, which lasted until January 2015. 

When the cease-fire regime collapsed on Jan.12, fighting broke out throughout the region, with separatist forces going on the offensive in several locations. 

On Feb. 7, French President Francois Hollande joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a surprise visit to Moscow to discuss a peace proposal. 

The three agreed to meet again in Minsk on Feb. 11, along with other leaders, where they signed the new agreement after nearly 17 hours of negotiations.

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