Seven civilians and five soldiers were killed in fighting in east Ukraine, government and rebel officials said today, with Kiev accusing pro-Russian separatists of massing forces for fresh offensives.
Rebels are “accumulating forces for further offensive operations on Debaltseve and Mariupol,” Ukrainian defence official Volodymyr Polyovyi told journalists.
The separatists were sending fresh tanks, armoured personnel carriers as well as multiple launch rocket systems to the Debaltseve region and Granitne, around 35 kilometres northeast of Mariupol, Polyovyi said.
Debaltseve — mid-way between rebel centres Donetsk and Lugansk — has been the focus of fierce fighting for over a week as insurgent fighters try to encircle government troops holding the strategic railway hub.
Separatist fighters in January fired rockets at the strategic government-held port city of Mariupol, whose capture could open up a land bridge from Russia to Crimea.
Officials from the two warring sides said that over the past 24 hours six civilians were killed by shelling across government-held territory while one local resident died in rebel bastion Donetsk.
The latest toll includes two women killed by shelling in government-controlled Avdiyivka, just north of Donetsk airport, Kiev-loyal regional police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said.
Clashes with pro-Moscow insurgents over the same period claimed the lives of five government soldiers and wounded 26 more, Ukraine’s military said.
Missile fire today hit Debaltseve a day after a brief truce allowed hundreds of civilians to flee, government officials said.
Ukraine’s military had previously said that a temporary ceasefire that saw shelling of the beleaguered town halt for several hours yesterday.
A separatist military spokesman said today that the insurgents were not planning to dispatch any more buses to evacuate civilians due to safety concerns.
Only 40 people opted to head to the rebel side yesterday.
Amnesty International said earlier this week that most of the town’s former population of 25,000 had fled, but that around 7,000 civilians remain behind.
An AFP journalist in the main rebel city of Donetsk said that the sounds of heavy explosion could be heard around the city today.
Some 5,400 people have been killed by fighting since the start of the conflict in April, according to the UN.