Fighting between government troops and separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine escalated on Tuesday, killing at least seven people overnight, injuring many more and trapping 200 coalminers underground, the warring sides reported.
Rebels in Donetsk said an electricity sub-station was damaged in shelling, cutting power to the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk and trapping more than 200 miners inside. The mine is notorious for its safety standards; 33 people were killed there in 2015 by a methane blast.
Separatist military spokesman Eduard Basurin, in an interview with Russian state Rossiya 24 television on Tuesday, denied reports that separatist shelling cut power lines and heating stations in Avdiivka, saying they had been damaged earlier.
Artillery shelling, which appears to be the worst in many months, was concentrated around the government-controlled town of Avdiivka, home to a giant coking plant. Its director said on Monday that preparations were being made to stop production, which has rarely been done during throughout the conflict that has claimed more than 9,600 lives since it began in 2014.
The press office of the Ukrainian government’s operation in the east said on Tuesday that heavy shelling around Avdiivka on the northern outskirts of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk killed at least three troops and injured 20 more. The operation headquarters also reported an unspecified number of civilian casualties.
In Donetsk, the rebels’ Donetsk News Agency reported four rebel fighters have died and seven were injured overnight.
Salvos of heavy-caliber artillery were heard throughout the night and late morning in Avdiivka, where several thousand people have been living without electricity for days. Fighting has cut water supplies for most of the town and it was left without heating in the dead of winter. Temperatures plunged to -18 degrees Centigrade (0 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday morning.
The local hospital was flooded with injured soldiers during the night who were operated on and shipped to a town further away from the front line, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. Several private houses were damaged in the shelling.
Local water supply company Water of Donbass said on Monday the Donetsk Water Filtration Station, a crucial source of clean water for both sides of the conflict came under shelling. About 10 projectiles landed in a reservoir that feeds the filtration plant, the company said.
Both sides in the conflict committed to cease fire and pull back heavy weaponry under a 2015 truce which they have violated several times.
Pavlo Zhebrivsky, head of the administration in charge of the government-controlled parts of the Donetsk region, said on Facebook his office was working on a plan to evacuate 12,000 residents from Avdiivka.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday cut short his visit to Germany because of the fighting. Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Tuesday sent a letter to the chairman of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, urging him to convene a special mission to discuss the crisis. OSCE monitors have been key in documenting cease-fire violations on both sides of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.