Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebel militias for control of Donetsk airport left more civilians dead on Wednesday, with reports of a school near the airport coming under shell fire as heavy artillery exchanges continued, further undermining a ceasefire in the region.
A ceasefire deal last month essentially froze the conflict that has killed more than 3,000 people, with parts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions left under control of Russia-backed militias. While in many places the ceasefire has held, the rebels have been attempting to push Ukrainian forces from Donetsk airport, their biggest position within firing range of the city.
At least 10 people were killed on Wednesday as government troops and rebels exchanged artillery fire. In Kiev the military spokesman Andriy Lysenko claimed Ukrainian forces still controlled the airport and were “brilliantly carrying out their duty”, but rebels said they now controlled 90% of the airport.
Separatists said 11 people had been killed after a school and bus stop were shelled. The school was evacuated and none of the children were killed, they added.
Joanne Mariner of Amnesty International, who has spent several days in Donetsk, said the area near the airport had been coming under serious artillery fire for several days. Six civilians were killed there on Sunday, she said.
“It is impossible to tell who is responsible for any particular attack, but it does seem that residential areas have been hit by Ukrainian forces firing from the airport,” she said. “However, the rebels also bear responsibility as they have been stationing artillery in residential areas and firing from there, in clear contradiction of the laws of war.” She said she had personally witnessed on Sunday and Monday a large artillery piece stationed just a few metres from a residential block.
Serious doubt has also been cast on claims by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, of a cover-up of alleged mass graves found in the Donetsk region.