Fierce fighting has erupted around the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine in some of the worst clashes between government forces and separatists since the Malaysia Airlines disaster.
Fighting also continued in other areas across the region as the Ukrainian armed forces continued an offensive designed to destroy the Russian-backed insurgency.
Local authorities in Donetsk evacuated the main railway station after artillery fire claimed three lives, and fighting broke out around the airport as government forces closed in on a city which has been unofficially governed by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic since April.
The local government also warned people living near the station not to venture out unless “absolutely necessary” as shell and rocket fire destroyed cars and left buildings pock-marked by shrapnel.
Despite the warning local media reported people fleeing the area in an effort to escape to safer areas of the city.
“The active phase of the anti-terrorist operation is continuing vigorously in Donetsk,” said Vladislav Seleznev, a Ukrainian military spokesman.
“Donetsk airport and the surrounding area are now under our control. We are organising a corridor for the delivery of food and equipment to the airport,” he added.
The Ukrainian newspaper Komsomolskaya reported a “demolition epidemic” as rebel fighters sought to stall the government offensive by blowing up – or preparing to destroy – key infrastructure elements. The paper added that rebels had, in one case, mined a dam on a reservoir in order to flood the surrounding area, if they came under attack.
The defence ministry said the army had gained control of Dzerzhynsk, 55km north of Donetsk, and that rebel fighters were “on the retreat”.
“In the last month and a half, the territory controlled by the terrorists has shrunk by two and a half times. Step by step, day by day the Ukrainian army is recapturing the Donbas,” said Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council.
Mr Lysenko added that despite the downing of flight MH17 allegedly by Moscow-backed rebels, Russia had failed to halt the flow of arms across the border. “Russia has not tried even once to stop arming the terrorists. It continues to supply them with arms,” he claimed.