Death toll over 16 as fighting continues in Eastern Ukraine

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Heavy artillery and rockets hit residential areas in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday amid a new outburst of fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatist rebels, killing at least eight people and injuring dozens.

Salvos of heavy-caliber artillery were heard throughout the night and late morning in Avdiivka, a town on the northern outskirts of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk where residents have been without electricity for days. In Donetsk, at least one civilian was killed by shrapnel.

The U.N. Security Council called for “an immediate return to the cease-fire regime,” a call echoed by the U.N. spokesman. Council members, including Ukraine which is serving a two-year term, expressed “grave concern about the dangerous deterioration of the situation in the eastern Ukraine and its severe impact on the local civilian population.”

The council condemned the use of weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements on ending the conflict and called for their implementation. Members also expressed “full support” for the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Fighting around Avdiivka has cut water and power supplies for most of the town and it was left without heating in the dead of winter. Temperatures plunged to minus 18 Celsius (zero Fahrenheit) Tuesday morning.

The warring sides blamed each other for the spike in hostilities, the worst in months. The Ukrainian government was considering evacuating 12,000 residents from Avdiivka, Pavlo Zhebrivsky, head of the administration in charge of the government-controlled parts of the Donetsk region, said on Facebook.

With no signs of an immediate evacuation in sight, some residents went to a local bus station, hoping to get away from the heavy shelling.

Volodymyr Bassak, 67, was waiting to catch a bus Tuesday morning to a city some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north because of the lack of heat in his home.

“The house was shaking — (shelling) was really intense at about four in the morning,” Bassak said as he brushed tears from his eyes. “There were flames along the front line.”

Valery Tretyakov said he was having tea at home in Donetsk when he heard a big explosion and the sound of shattered glass. He rushed into the bedroom and saw his wife bleeding from a shrapnel wound to her neck that proved fatal.

“It was impossible to stop bleeding,” Tretyakov said. “One minute and that’s all.”

The rebels’ Donetsk News Agency also reported that four fighters died and seven were injured overnight along with three civilians.

Oleksandr Turchynov, chairman of the Ukrainian Security and Defense Council, said on Tuesday that shelling around Avdiivka killed at least three government troops and injured 24 more. Another seven soldiers were killed on Sunday and Monday, the government said.

Source : Associated Press