7 Ukrainian soldiers killed in fighting with separatists

At least seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in an apparent upsurge in fighting in the east of the country, government officials have said.

A Ukranian armoured personnel carrier outside a hospital after ferrying wounded service men from the front line. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

An armed conflict between government troops and separatist rebels has killed more than 9,600 since it began in 2014, according to the UN Human Rights Office.

A January ceasefire had until recently helped to limit the fighting to sporadic shootouts.

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The government’s press office for the operation in the east said it recorded an increase in fighting on several fronts on Sunday which left at least five killed and nine troops injured.

“The situation in the Avdiyivka industrial zone is challenging. The enemy continues to fire at our positions with heavy artillery and mortars,” Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a regular daily briefing.

Two more were killed and five injured yesterday morning north of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, the press office said.

Kiev accused the rebels of using tanks and Grad multiple grenade launchers, and said they recorded intensified fighting all along the frontline – outside the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, in the south of the frontline north of Mariupol and west of Luhansk.

The Grad launcher is among heavy-calibre weapons that should have been pulled back from the front line under a 2015 truce between the warring parties.

In Donetsk, self-proclaimed separatist authorities reported damage to civilian infrastructure, with several villages and areas left without electricity and gas supplies.

The separatist Donetsk News Agency reported one civilian killed and three injured in Makiivka, north-east of Donetsk.

The rebels also reported that government forces opened fire on a checkpoint to the north of Donetsk where thousands of civilians pass through every day between rebel-held and government-controlled territories.

Both sides reported that fighting continued yesterday morning.

Close to 10,000 people have been killed since fighting between Ukrainian troops and rebels seeking independence from Kiev first erupted in April 2014.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko was due to discuss the state of the conflict yesterday in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who helped broker the Minsk ceasefire deal.

Ukraine and Nato accuse the Kremlin of supporting the rebels with troops and weapons, which it denies. The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Russia over the conflict, as well as for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.