28 January 2015
On Tuesday, a public ceremony was held at Auschwitz to mark the 70th anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation by elements of the Soviet Union’s Red Army on January 27, 1945. The very name of this Nazi death camp in southern Poland is synonymous with the greatest crimes and horrors of the 20th century, a byword for capitalist barbarism in its most extreme form.
Between early 1942 and late 1945, transport trains delivered Jews from throughout Nazi-occupied Europe to the gates of Auschwitz, which bore the infamous slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes [you] free”). Over 1.1 million people were put to death at Auschwitz, hundreds of thousands of them sent immediately to gas chambers, others exterminated through starvation, overwork, disease or the hideous medical experiments carried out by the likes of Josef Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death.”
While 90 percent of those murdered in the camp were Jews, 150,000 Poles, including political prisoners, 23,000 Romani and Sinti (Gypsies), 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and other national minorities, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals were imprisoned and exterminated there.
The Nazi regime’s “final solution of the Jewish question,” was part of a wider “General Plan for the East,” which envisioned the reduction of the population of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union by some 30 million through starvation and mass deportations. The plan included the demolition of cities and the turning over of the land to German colonists. By the end of the war, the Soviet Union had lost 14 percent of its population, some 27 million people, while Poland lost some 5.8 million, 16 percent of its population.
Auschwitz and all of the associated crimes of the Nazis were carried out by a regime brought to power with the support of Germany’s capitalist ruling class for the purpose of smashing the country’s socialist workers movement and overcoming the crisis of German capitalism by means of militarist aggression and conquest.
The observance of the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation this year was attended by just a few hundred of the dwindling number of survivors of the death camp, most of them in their nineties. Many made statements of urgency and poignancy, conscious that they would not likely be present at the next major anniversary.
“People forget what Auschwitz was, and it terrifies me, because I know to what kind of hell it leads,” said Roman Kent, 85. He concluded his remarks at the ceremony by stating, “We do not want our past to be our children’s future.”
These words resonated all the more because the ceremony was overshadowed by a new drive toward world war and the threat of historic crimes to come, horrors that are being consciously prepared through the falsification of history. This was evident in the deliberate attempts to turn the anniversary into a vehicle for whipping up anti-Russian sentiment in Europe and promoting the US-led “war on terror.”
On the eve of the event, the Polish government went out of its way to snub the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin, while inviting the head of the NATO-backed regime in Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko, as an honored guest. Asked by a Polish radio station whether Warsaw’s attitude toward Putin wasn’t petty, Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna replied that the Russian president’s presence was superfluous because Auschwitz had been liberated by “the First Ukrainian Front and Ukrainians.”
Anyone with the slightest familiarity with the history of Auschwitz knows that it was liberated by a unit of the Soviet Union’s Red Army. More than 200 Soviet troops died in the battle to liberate Auschwitz and the adjacent Polish town. The so-called “Ukrainian Front” was named not for the national composition of its troops, but for the location where it had last fought in driving back the German occupiers.
This grotesque historical revisionism is of a piece with the statement made earlier this month by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on German television in which he condemned the “Soviet invasion of Ukraine and Germany” in World War II.
As for the present Ukrainian regime, given a place of honor at the ceremony, it was brought to power nearly a year ago through a US- and German-orchestrated coup spearheaded by the fascist bands of Svoboda and the Right Sector, which venerate the legacy of Hitler’s SS and of the Ukrainian fascist units that participated in the Holocaust.
Among the heads of state attending the ceremony was France’s President François Hollande, who in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris invited to the presidential palace Marine Le Pen. Her National Front party is the political heir of the French Nazi collaborators of the Vichy regime. Hollande’s gesture marked yet another step in the drive by European governments to legitimize and rehabilitate fascism.
Also present was German President Joachim Gauck, who has served as the standard bearer for the revival of German militarism and a return to the great power imperialist politics that led to the catastrophes of World War I and World War II.
As an essential part of this process, German academics are revising history, downplaying the central responsibility of the German state for the previous world wars, and even relativizing the crimes of the Third Reich. The chief representative of this tendency in German historiography, Ernst Nolte, is being feted as a great historian. And in February 2014, the Berlin-based historian Jörg Baberowski — an ardent defender of Nolte — told Der Spiegel magazine: “Hitler was no psychopath, and he wasn’t vicious. He didn’t want people to talk about the extermination of the Jews at his table.”
While much was written about Putin’s absence from the ceremony Tuesday, little was made in the media of US President Barack Obama’s decision to send the relatively unknown treasury secretary, Jack Lew, to represent Washington, while he and top US military and intelligence officials flew to Saudi Arabia to discuss Middle East war plans with the monarchical regime in the wake of Saudi King Abdullah’s demise.
Once again, as in the period that led to the rise of fascism in Europe and the outbreak of the Second World War, world capitalism is gripped by a deep and systemic crisis that drives the rival imperialist powers to seek their salvation through militarist aggression abroad and the destruction of the social and democratic rights of the working class at home.
Seventy years after its liberation, Auschwitz stands not as some abstract symbol of the human potential for “evil,” but rather as a grim and urgent warning of the crimes and catastrophes that capitalism in crisis is capable of inflicting upon humanity.
Once again, the world working class is confronted with the stark alternatives of socialism or barbarism, in which even the crimes of the Nazis can be eclipsed in a nuclear Third World War.
Bill Van Auken
President Obama’s proposal for tuition-free community college education, and the broader discussion which it has inspired, confirms our belief that it is time for a comprehensive solution to a $1.3 trillion problem: student debt in the United States.
We strongly support the concept of tuition-free public higher education, and are encouraged by renewed arguments in its favor. But we must also confront what has been done to the last several generations of students. They have been forced to take on debt that is crippling to them, to our economy and our society.
A student debt “jubilee” would reflect both the values upon which this nation was founded, and the economic principles which have sustained it through its greatest periods of growth and prosperity.
It is time for a truly transformative idea: Let’s Abolish All Student Loan Debt in America.
If you agree, click here to take action.
Jubilees Then and Now
The Liberty Bell represents our nation’s core values, combining personal freedom with community action. The words inscribed on the Bell – “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, and to all the inhabitants thereof” – are from the Book of Leviticus and refer to a Biblical “Year of Jubilee,” when all debts were periodically forgiven by the nation’s rulers.
Those Jubilee years – proclaimed at 49 year intervals for over 4,000 years – were both moral and practical in nature. On one hand, they were an acknowledgement that prolonged and excessive debt was an unconscionable burden. That morality is woven into the ethical foundation of Western civilization, which accepts the notion of fair debt but rejects indebtedness which is usurious or impinges on human freedom.
But they were also an economic necessity, preserving social harmony while ensuring uninterrupted production. The practical value of debt forgiveness has been explored by scholars who note that it reinforces social cohesion and prevents large groups of people from falling into poverty or oppression.
These goals remain as important today as they were in ancient times. A vibrant middle class is the engine of a functioning economy. A sustainable future is impractical without it.
While “Jubilee Years” were created long ago, the concept lives on today in different forms. Most modern Western societies have drawn on similar moral and practical arguments to end usury, indentured servitude, and slavery. Bankruptcy laws extend a kind of individualized “jubilee” to people who are over-burdened with debt. (Ironically, student debt is exempted from most forms of bankruptcy relief.)
Now we face a new moral challenge. We need a new and transformative movement, one which echoes the struggles of recent history while drawing its inspiration from ancient traditions. Our massive student debt burden is a moral and ethical challenge. This debt draws upon the as-yet unearned wealth of each new generation, mortgaging tomorrow’s wealth and inhibiting the prosperity of the future.
How did we get here?
The Rise of Student Debt
There was a time in living memory when many Americans could obtain public higher education at little or no tuition cost. Today a college degree has become prohibitively expensive for many, while millions of others are required to borrow extensively in order to meet its soaring costs.
Rather than address the cost of education, the root cause of the problem, the government became the primary lender for student debt, a move which contributed to runaway costs and crippling indebtedness. As a result, student debt is now the second-largest form of personal debt in this country, exceeding credit card debt and trailing only home mortgages.
Student debt is a dark betrayal at the heart of the American promise, and it must come to an end.
The statistics paint a clear picture: Student debt has soared, and continues to rise. The total amount owed is now $1.3 trillion. Approximately 41 million Americans now carry student debt, a figure which rose 40 percent between 2004 and 2012. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average amount owed for each graduating borrower has risen from less than $10,000 in 1993 to more than $30,000 in 2014 (in inflation-adjusted dollars). This debt has disproportionately affected lower-income Americans, but has affected households at all but the very highest income levels.
It gets worse. Unscrupulous “educators” and loan servicers in the private sector have exploited unwary students and their families. For the last six years, debt-burdened college students have entered the worst employment environment for young people and graduates in modern history. Politicians who have been too timid to tax hedge fund billionaires the same way they tax their personal assistants are ironically using the money from debt-burdened students and their families to offset the loss.
Social factors make the burden even greater. Upward social mobility is at record lows for the United States, and continues to fall. We pride ourselves on being a nation where “anyone who wants to work hard can get ahead,” but the statistics belie that statement. Education seems to be the last avenue of advancement for lower- and middle-class American young people, many of whom are faced with a terrible choice: either accept their economically disadvantaged lot in life, or assume a crushing debt on the hope that tomorrow’s earnings will eventually offset today’s burden.
This is not a moral system. It is our nation’s Faustian bargain with the future, forcing students and their families to mortgage their hopes and dreams because society is no longer willing to provide them with an education. That is a moral abdication and it has led to a form of indentured servitude for young college graduates, many of whom entered the worst job market in decades.
A Moral – and Practical – Solution
Student debt doesn’t just represent a breakdown in our social conscience. It also reflects a loss in our longstanding economic judgment. The entire society benefits from well-educated citizens, who provide it with better employees, brighter visionaries and leaders, artistic enrichment, and wiser participants in a collaborative democracy.
It is time to forgive this debt and set our students and their families free. We propose a Student Debt Jubilee which will forgive all $1.3 trillion in American student loan debt. Here’s how it can work: Most student loan debt (approximately 86 percent) is held by the Federal government. That means it is actually owned by the very people who owe the debt. That debt will can be forgiven by government action. The remainder is held by private lenders and will be the subject of future proposals.
Many people’s first reaction will be: We can’t afford it. While we will provide more detail on the funding process soon, the answer is a simple one: Yes, we can.
First, let’s reflect on our priorities. The Jubilee would cost less than the 2001 tax cuts, which primarily benefited the wealthiest among us – and is only slightly more than the ten-year cost of offshore tax loopholes for corporate America. For another perspective, astudy published 18 months ago showed that the costs of the war in Iraq had already exceeded $2 trillion.
We realize that a “student debt jubilee” will cost money. But it will also stimulate economic growth, by injecting more money into the overall economy, and that growth will provide more tax revenue for the government. There will also be a major expansionary effect, as young Americans liberated from debt are able to buy homes, start businesses and pursue their dreams. And in the future our economy will benefit from a better-educated population.
As we address today’s student debt, we must also ensure that tomorrow’s college students aren’t forced into excessive debt. We must therefore see to it that residents of every state have access to tuition-free public higher education. This is not a radical notion, or even a new one. President Obama’s plan for free community college stands on firm footing. The University of California was tuition-free until the 1960s, for example, and free higher education was available in New York City for well over a century. Germany has just joined the growing list of nations which offer their citizens a cost-free college education.
We are pleased that the President’s community-college proposal has sparked a new debate about four-year education as well. But tomorrow’s free tuition, should we achieve that goal, will not relieve the crushing debt burden of the past.
We are not naive. We know that this idea will meet with bitter resistance from those who argue that it “rewards the undeserving” or encourages irresponsible borrowing. (Paradoxically, many of those who will make those arguments remained silent as Wall Street was rescued and tax breaks were offered to undeserving financial speculators.) There are those who will argue that the idea is fiscally irresponsible, despite the fact that it will have a positive economic impact in the long-term.
We also know that, while the concept is simple, it will require more thought and discussion. That’s why we will continue to explore and expand upon this proposal until we have reached our goal. This is a new idea to most people. It represents a fundamental shift in our moral universe, just as other such struggles – for workplace rights, women’s rights, and civil rights – have in the past. It is an idea whose time has come. But these shifts don’t come easily. They take time, and debate – and an organized movement.
We hope you will join us.
If you agree, click here to take action.
“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” — Abraham Lincoln
Documents obtained by ACLU reveal vast expansion of DEA’s license plate reader database
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operates a massive secret government database that tracks the movement of motorists across the country, documents reveal.
The documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Act, cast further light on the scope of government surveillance and raise significant privacy concerns, the organization says.
At issue is the DEA’s national license plate reader program, which began aimed at vehicles in states along the Mexico border, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday:
The DEA program collects data about vehicle movements, including time, direction and location, from high-tech cameras placed strategically on major highways. Many devices also record visual images of drivers and passengers, which are sometimes clear enough for investigators to confirm identities, according to DEA documents and people familiar with the program.
The newly obtained documents reveal the years-long expansion of that initiative, with information being fed to the database by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and other agencies being allowed to query the database, though those inter-agency sharing agreements are secret.
For example, a sharing agreement exists between the DEA and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) , the ACLU states, such that the agencies provide each other with their license plate reader data and can also share the other’s data with “intelligence, operations, and fusion centers.”
One undated document obtained by ACLU showed that there were at least 100 license plate readers across the United States.
The records provided to ACLU by the DEA are “undated or years old,” Bennett Stein of ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst of the project, write. Yet they do “offer documentation that this program is a major DEA initiative that has the potential to track our movements around the country. With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country — and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Journal, “The fact that this intrusive technology is potentially being used to expand the reach of the government’s asset-forfeiture efforts is of even greater concern.”
ACLU’s Stanley told the Guardian, “This story highlights yet another way government security agencies are seeking to quietly amplify their powers using new technologies.”
“On this as on so many surveillance issues, we can take action, put in place some common sense limits or sit back and let our society be transformed into a place we won’t recognize — or probably much like,” he said.
After 134 days of resistance, the Kurdish forces of the YPG/YPJ have finally pushed IS out of Kobani. While the battle is won, the struggle continues.
Today, the resisting Kurds and their comrades in Kobani achieved the unimaginable: they managed to expel the fighters of the Islamic State (ISIS) from the city.
After 134 days of fierce battles between the Kurdish forces of the YPG and the YPJ (People’s and Women’s Defense Units), Peshmerga troops and elements of the Free Syrian Army on the one hand, and ISIS on the other, it appears that the last neighborhoods of the city that were under control of the jihadist militants have finally been liberated.
While the official spokesman for the YPG, Polat Can, announced the complete liberation of the city via Twitter, social media are buzzing with images ofcelebrating resistance fighters, burned-out ISIS tanks and of course the iconic red-yellow-and-green flag of TEVDEM, the Movement for a Democratic Society,waving on top of the strategically important Mishtenur hill overlooking the city.
ISIS’ advance on Kobani started in mid-September, when their forces managed to conquer the countryside surrounding the city in a matter of days before marching on the urban center itself. In the process, hundreds of thousands of people were forced out of their homes, fleeing in terror before the heavily armed jihadists who left little but carnage and destruction in their wake.
Approximately 260,000 people sought refuge across the border in Turkey, but several hundreds of resistance fighters remained behind to protect the city. With little else but their AK-47s and a firm determination to halt ISIS’ advance into Kobani, the men and women of the YPG/YPJ managed to prevent ISIS from adding yet another town to their long list of military victories in recent months.
The resistance of the Kurdish fighters against ISIS was hampered by the policies of neighboring Turkey, which kept its border with the besieged town hermetically sealed, preventing any aid from reaching the resistance. At the same time many sources and observers have made mention of its supposed military, logistical and medical support for the jihadists.
In the past few months, the Kurdish fighters and their supporters from across the region and across the globe have gathered at the Turkish side of the border to express their support and solidarity with the resistance. The battle in Kobani not only highlighted the effectiveness of the Kurdish militias as one of the few armed forces in the region able to combat ISIS, but, more importantly, it brought global attention to the plight of the people of Rojava and their social revolutionfocusing on direct democracy, gender equality and environmental sustainability.
While the victory in Kobani is undoubtedly of crucial importance for the war against ISIS and a major reason for celebration, it has to be stressed that the struggle is far from over. The majority of the more than 300 villages that are part of the Kobani canton remain under the control of ISIS, and as long as this remains the case the great majority of refugees in Turkey will be unable to return to their homes.
Moreover, the liberated city of Kobani now lies in ruins. The continuous mortar shelling, heavy artillery fire and car bomb (VBIEDs) attacks by ISIS in combination with the aerial bombardments by the US-led coalition targeting ISIS positions in the city have destroyed entire neighborhoods.
The liberation of Kobani is of military strategic importance, but more importantly it is a symbolic victory of democracy over authoritarianism; of pluralism over fascism; of freedom over repression — and most of all a victory that has shown the world the true power of those fighting for genuine liberation as opposed to the fanaticism of those who fight for little but fraudulent beliefs.
While Kobani was under siege, in the neighboring cantons Afrin and Cezire therevolution continued: people’s councils were set up, workers’ cooperatives were developed and women actively started to engage in the decision-making processes that are laying the foundations for a new society where power rises from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down.
The major challenge for the people of Kobani, and possibly a crucial test for the strength of the revolution, lies ahead: not only a city, but an entire society will have to be rebuilt almost from scratch.
The people of Kobani have proven their strength on the battlefield, and their heroic resistance against all odds has become a beacon of hope for all those believing that the fight against the repressive forces of fascism, in whatever form, can be won.
The international attention the battle of Kobani has received can now be used to show the world that the people of Rojava are not only leading the way in battling the extremism of ISIS, but also in fighting against the forces of imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy that have given birth to so many of the evils currently plaguing societies across the globe — and in the Middle East in particular.
Bijî Berxwedane Kobani!
Bijî Berxwedane YPG!
Bijî Berxwedane YPJ!
Bijî Berxwedane Rojava!
Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based freelance journalist, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English.
By Niles Williamson
27 January 2015
Presaging a further escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, Prime Minster Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Monday declared an official state of emergency in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. He also announced that the rest of the country would be placed on high alert. The eastern Donbass strongholds of separatists opposed to the regime in Kiev that came to power last year after a US- and EU-supported coup have seen renewed hostilities in recent weeks.
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, India on Sunday, US President Barack Obama blamed Russia for the renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine and vowed to use all options short of war to escalate political and economic pressure on Moscow.
Obama glibly told reporters that the United States has no interest in weakening Russia or devastating its economy. “We have a profound interest, as I believe every country does, in promoting a core principle, which is, large countries don’t bully smaller countries. They don’t encroach on their territorial integrity. They don’t encroach on their sovereignty. And that’s what’s at stake in Ukraine,” he said.
Obama expressed concern over the collapse of a ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk in September, accusing the pro-Russia separatists of fighting “with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops.” To date neither the US government nor the regime in Kiev has provided any solid evidence backing up their repeated claims of direct Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine.
President Obama vowed to “ratchet up” the pressure on Russia and ominously promised that the US government would consider all options “available to us short of a military confrontation” to resolve the ongoing conflict.
At the same time that Obama denounced supposed Russian interference in Ukraine, he reiterated that Washington would continue to give economic support to the Kiev regime, as well as provide equipment and training for its armed forces.
It was announced last week that the United States Army would be sending a contingent of advisers to western Ukraine in the spring to train four companies of the National Guard of Ukraine. At the end of last year, Obama signed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which authorizes the president to deliver a large cache of lethal military equipment to the Ukrainian government and implement a new raft of sanctions against Russia at his discretion. (See: US announces plans to deploy military advisers to Ukraine).
Obama’s remarks were part of a coordinated response to a deadly artillery attack in the city of Mariupol on Saturday that struck a residential area, killing 30 civilians and injuring approximately 100 others. An investigation by members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that Grad and Uragan rockets were fired into the city from rebel-held territory.
After an emergency meeting of NATO and Ukrainian ambassadors on Monday, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg blamed Russia for the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine. “We condemn the sharp escalation of violence along the cease-fire line in eastern Ukraine by Russia-backed separatists. This comes at great human cost to civilians,” he told reporters.
After the shelling in Mariupol, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called for new sanctions against Russia after an “urgent” phone call with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The former Polish prime minister bellicosely tweeted, “Once again, appeasement encourages the aggressor to greater acts of violence. Time to step up our policy based on cold facts, not illusions.”
Responding to the new allegations of support for the anti-Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine and threats of escalating sanctions by European and American leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the Ukrainian army of operating as a foreign legion for NATO. Speaking to students in Moscow on Monday, he stated that the operations of the Ukrainian army were tied to the “geopolitical containment of Russia” rather than the “national interests of the Ukrainian people.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the EU and US of using the attack on Mariupol to “whip up anti-Russian hysteria.” He defended the actions of the separatists, saying they were fighting to defend themselves from the Kiev regime’s new offensive. “They started to act…with the goal of destroying Ukrainian army positions being used to shell populated areas,” he told reporters in Moscow.
Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minster of the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, denied that the separatists were responsible for the attack on Mariupol. “Kiev decided to shift the blame on us for its erroneous fire from Grad multiple rocket launchers at residential areas,” he told reporters.
The effort by the US and EU to maintain economic sanctions against Russia has been showing signs of strain in recent weeks, with some countries, such as France and Italy, pressing for the improvement of diplomatic and economic relations with Russia. Last week, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini published a paper that outlined possible ways to begin improving diplomatic relations with Moscow.
In the wake of the Mariupol attack, Mogherini has called for an extraordinary session of the EU Foreign Affairs Council. The foreign ministers of the 28 EU member countries will convene in Brussels on Thursday to discuss possible new sanctions against Russia.
Fighting has flared up in the east in the last two weeks in the wake of an assault launched by the Kiev regime on separatist-held areas. The pretext for the new attack was the shelling of a commuter bus that killed 13 people in Volnovakha, a small town on the main highway between Donetsk and Mariupol.
Speaking at a rally in Kiev on January 19, President Petro Poroshenko denounced the attack, which he blamed on the separatists, and vowed that his government would “not give away one scrap of Ukrainian land.” That same day the Ukrainian military was authorized by Poroshenko to launch a “massive assault” on separatist-held positions in the east.
The Kiev regime launched an offensive in an attempt to solidify its control over the Donetsk International Airport. In an embarrassing turn of events, pro-Russian separatists succeeded at the end of last week in repelling the attack and dislodging Ukrainian troops and right-wing militia fighters from the airport’s main terminal. The symbolically and strategically important airport, the site of intense fighting between both sides for the last several months, has been nearly completely destroyed by relentless artillery bombardment.
Shelling in Donetsk on Monday damaged a power station at the Zasyadko mine, temporarily trapping 496 miners underground. Temporary power generators were used to bring the mine’s elevators back online and the miners were gradually evacuated.
Pro-Russian separatists have moved to surround the government-controlled town of Debaltseve, where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers taking part in the renewed offensive have encamped. The town is located on the main highway and rail line connecting the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk. At least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been reported killed and 24 wounded in the last day of fighting in the Luhansk region.