NINE civilians have been killed in new fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists around the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk in east Ukraine, officials in the locality said yesterday.
Six people were killed in shelling and gunfire on the outskirts of Donetsk, deputy mayor Kostantyn Savinov said, and city officials said three had been killed in the shelling of Luhansk over the previous 24 hours.
An eye witness in central Donetsk said the shelling continued through the night and witnesses said several buildings caught fire in the outlying Petrovsky district, including a school. The smell of smoke stretched as far as the city centre.
Many residents of Luhansk, which is close to the border with Russia, have no electricity and some are without water.
Advances by the Ukrainian army have forced the rebels out of most of the towns they had occupied in Russian-speaking east Ukraine and squeezed them mainly into Luhansk, which had a population of about 400,000 before the conflict, and Donetsk, which had about one million residents.
The Ukrainian military said it had suffered no losses in the latest fighting. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, in which the United Nations says more than 1,100 people have been killed, have stalled.
The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia, saying it has not used its influence with the separatists to end the fighting, but Moscow denies arming the rebels or orchestrating the conflict.
The fighting has intensified in eastern Ukraine since the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in rebel-held territory on 17 July in which 298 people died.
Dutch and Australian forensic experts and police planned to continue recovery work at the crash site by examining debris in the village of Rozsypne, a few kilometres from the main wreckage.
The US says the separatists probably shot down the Boeing 777 by mistake with a Russian-supplied missile. Moscow denies the accusation and blames the disaster on Kiev.
For days, roads to the crash site were too dangerous to use because of fighting, but the experts finally arrived there on Friday and hope to recover the last of the victims’ remains. The victims included 196 Dutch, 27 Australians and 43 Malaysians.
Shelling nearby forced the experts to stop their search for human remains on Saturday in one area where debris was found, but they were able to work unhindered at the main site.
Meanwhile, a businessman and associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday said he could not use his luxury jet because of US sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.
Gennady Timchenko, a major shareholder in Russia’s No 2 gas producer Novatek, said Gulfstream Aerospace had withdrawn technical support for his jet. His comments indicated that the G650 jet, which is thought to be worth about £38 million, had been grounded in Moscow.
“Sanctions are coming out in the quaintest of ways,” Mr Timchenko said. “The company Gulfstream has stopped fulfilling its contract obligations by suspending my jet flights.”
Mr Timchenko was included on a US list of individuals subject to asset freezes and visa bans after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.