8 civilians killed in artillery fire in eastern Ukraine
ARTEMIVSK, Ukraine (AP) Artillery fire in eastern Ukraine has killed at least eight people and wounded 22 others in the past day, rebels in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk said Tuesday.
Hostilities between the pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government in Kiev resumed with a vengeance in January after a month of relative calm. The latest peace talks broke down Saturday, with both sides blaming each other for prolonging the conflict that has killed more 5,100 people since April.
Donetsk separatist spokesman Eduard Basurin told the rebel website Novorossiya that 5 people were killed in shelling overnight and three on Monday. City Hall said artillery fire damaged homes in four districts.
The rebels often set up firing positions on government troops in residential areas in Donetsk, attracting return fire.
The rebels' main offensive is now directed at Debaltseve, a railway junction once populated by 25,000 people that lies between the rebel-held cities of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Almost 2,000 residents have fled in the past few days alone.
Separatists last week captured the town of Vuhlehirsk, crucial for the advance on Debaltseve. Rebel leaders insist, however, they are not planning to storm Debaltseve itself because of potential for civilian casualties.
In a sign of the volatile situation on the ground, Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as saying his fighters were helping to evacuate Vuhlehirsk because of the heavy fighting.
Ukraine accuses Russia of supporting the rebels, a charge that Russia denies. But western military experts say the sheer amount of heavy weapons in rebel hands belies that denial, and the U.S. and the European Union have placed economic sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine.