At least 30 people are killed in heavy shelling by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, as the leader of rebel fighters says an offensive is “launched”.
The leader of pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine, Alexander Zakharchenko, was quoted as saying that his rebel fighters had launched the attack on Mariupol.
“Today an offensive was launched on Mariupol. This will be the best possible monument to all our dead,” he was quoted as saying at a memorial ceremony in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
Mariupol city council said that rebels had fired rockets from long-range missile systems, killing at least 20 and injuring at least 83.
“The world needs to stop the Russian aggressor threatening Ukraine, Europe and global security .. The problem is in the hero-town of Moscow – Kremlin, Vladimir Putin,” said Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk at a meeting of security and defence chiefs.
Rebels had previously denied responsibility for the attacks on the Kiev-controlled city, which lies on a coastal route from the Russian border to Crimea, the peninsula which was annexed by Russia from Ukraine last March.
Earlier the pro-western police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin blamed pro-Russian fighters for the shelling. “As a result of shelling by rebels of a residential sector of Mariupol … 10 people have been killed,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Oleksander Turchynov, secretary of Ukraine’s national defence council, described the incident as “another bloody crime against humanity committed by the Russian military and the bands of terrorists under their complete control,” in an online statement.
Fighting between government forces and separatist rebels has surged in the past two weeks to its “most deadly period since the declaration of a ceasefire on 5 September,” according to the United Nations.
The OHCHR said that at least 262 people have been killed in the last nine days alone, whilst the death toll since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine in mid-April last year stands at more than 5,000, although the UN fears the real figure may be “considerably higher”.
Last week, Ukrainian troops claimed to have retaken almost all of the territory of Donetsk airport, before later withdrawing troops from the area.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said last week Russia had 9,000 troops inside Ukraine and called on Moscow to withdraw them, blaming it for an armed aggression. Moscow denies sending forces and weapons to east Ukraine, despite what the West says is irrefutable proof.
On Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed “criminal orders” by Ukrainian leaders on Friday for the surge in the conflict.
Ukraine says its troops are holding the line against the separatists after suffering a symbolic and morale-sapping setback last week when they withdrew from the main terminal at the airport in Donetsk, the biggest city in the east.