Three killed in breach of Ukraine holiday truce

A Ukrainian soldier inspects a destroyed school in Pisky village near Donetsk, in October 2015 (AFP Photo/Anatolii Stepanov)

Kiev (AFP) - At least three people have been killed as Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists clashed in the first violation of a holiday truce, military officials from both sides said Sunday.

The victims -- a Ukrainian soldier and two civilians -- are the first since the warring sides agreed on Tuesday to halt fire through the New Year holidays in the latest attempt to cease hostilities.

"Over the past 24 hours... one Ukrainian soldier was killed and another three were wounded," Ukraine's military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters.

He said the village of Zaitseve, some 55 kilometres (30 miles) north of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, was the epicentre of the clashes.

An elderly woman also died from shrapnel wounds suffered in shelling on the village, which is partly controlled by Kiev, he added.

Rebel forces spokesman Eduard Basurin said two civilians -- a man and a woman -- were killed in the same village. It was impossible to verify whether the two sides had reported the death of the same woman.

More than 9,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Kiev forces and pro-Russian separatists that broke out in eastern Ukraine in April 2014.

Kiev and the West have accused Russia of fuelling the insurgency and of sending regular troops across the border, claims that Moscow denies.

A series of truce agreements have helped significantly reduce the fighting, although sporadic clashes continue on the frontline.