“This is considered extremely dangerous,” Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said of the fighting that has now come within about 500 yards of the plant. Pipes that transport the gas — used mostly to disinfect water today, but as a chemical weapon during World War I — are now vulnerable.
“If those were to go off in this area, which is close to where people live, it could be potentially devastating,” Ms. Nauert said.
The breakdown in the peacekeeping effort began when the Russians withdrew from the Joint Center for Ceasefire Control and Coordination. That is the organization that had helped to monitor the cease-fire and allowed Ukraine’s military to communicate with rebel commanders through Russian officers who acted as intermediaries.
Ertugrul Apakan, the head of the mission in Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, another group monitoring the cease-fire, said the number of violations had reached levels not recorded since a flare-up in February.
The escalation began even before the Russians had left their posts, but picked up afterward. O.S.C.E. observers, who record explosions and gunshots near the front, had counted 16,000 cease-fire violations over a weeklong period this month.
Kurt Volker, the Trump administration’s special envoy for the Ukraine crisis, warned in a speech in Washingtonr this week that “a lot of people think that this has somehow turned into a sleepy, frozen conflict and it’s stable.” He said that view of the Ukraine war was “completely wrong.”
Mr. Volker said the shelling overnight Tuesday was “one of the most violent nights” of the war, which began in spring 2014 as Russia supported separatists in two regions of eastern Ukraine after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president fled the country.
In the nighttime fighting that Mr. Volker referred to, the government-controlled village of Novoluhanske was struck by a barrage of Grad rockets. The rockets, about the size of a fence post, are fired from the back of a truck. Fifteen hit in and around the village, which is close to Ukrainian military positions.
“I got away on my knees,” one woman said in a video posted on a pro-Ukrainian news site, Inform Napalm. “I screamed to grandfather, get out, but he couldn’t hear me and was covered in blood.
Another volley of rocket artillery hit the nearby town of Zaitseve overnight Wednesday, Col. Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, told journalists in Kiev.
A separatist news agency, DAN, reported an escalation in attacks from the Ukrainian side, and said the Ukrainian Army had staged the attack on Novoluhanske village to justify its targeting of rebel territory.
The United Nations says that since 2014, the war has killed more than 10,300 people, including combatants on both sides and civilians, and forced an additional 1.5 million from their homes.
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