By early February 2015, the UN estimated that 5,300 people had died in the conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels in two eastern provinces of the country. As the bloodshed continued to rise, a ceasefire was agreed from 15 February.
The Minsk agreement did not address all conflict areas along the 350km long front line. Fighting continued in some places, including in the town of Debaltseve, where violence had escalated ahead of the peace talks. Although a temporary truce allowed civilians to leave Debaltseve, many remained. After repeated attacks, heavily armed Pro-Russian fighters eventually took the town and its strategically positioned railroad junction from Ukrainian forces.
Donetsk, February 04, 2015 - A car hit during artillery shellings, killing a passenger. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
In the week before the ceasefire, strengthened rebel forces had already regained control of the town of Uglegorsk, which they had previously lost to Ukraine. The heavy fighting left a trail of destruction and death.
While the fragile ceasefire officially lasted, separatists continued to organise themselves, vowing to raise an army of 100,000 troops to fight government forces and take full control of the Donbass region.
Uglegorsk, February 07, 2015 - A Russian-backed separatist walks by the body of a Ukrainian paramilitary. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Uglegorsk, February 07, 2015 - Residents flee their home after Russian-backed separatists gained control of the town. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Uglegorsk, February 07, 2015 - A golden mask is mounted on the remains of a Ukrainian weapon after Russian-backed separatists gain control of Uglegorsk. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Uglegorsk, February 18, 2015 - Russian-backed separatists from the Corsa grad brigade fire rockets towards Debaltseve in spite of the recent ceasefire agreement. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Uglegorsk, February 19, 2015 - Soldiers believed to be from a Russian tank brigade play with a soccer ball at a roadblock. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images
Debaltseve, February 20, 2015 - Russian-backed separatists take position outside the train station of Debaltseve as a shell explodes nearby. © Pierre Crom / Getty Images