AVDIIVKA, Ukraine â€” Fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine escalated on Tuesday, killing at least eight people late Monday and early Tuesday, injuring dozens and briefly trapping more than 200 coal miners underground, the warring sides reported.
Rebels in Donetsk said an electricity sub-station was damaged in shelling, cutting power to the Zasyadko coal mine. The mine is notorious for its safety standards; 33 people were killed there in 2015 by a methane blast.
With elevators not working, the miners had been trapped underground for several hours before local authorities found the backup generators outside the mine to get the elevators working. By late afternoon on Tuesday all 207 men were able to get out.
Separatist military spokesman Eduard Basurin, in an interview with Russian state Rossiya 24 television on Tuesday, denied reports that separatist shelling cut power lines and heating stations in the Avdiivka, a government-controlled town on the northern outskirts of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, saying they had been damaged earlier.
The artillery shelling, which appears to be the worst in many months, was concentrated around Avdiivka. The director of the town’s giant coking plant said on Monday that preparations were being made to stop production, something rarely done throughout the conflict that has claimed more than 9,600 lives since it began in 2014.
Oleksandr Turchynov, chairman of the Ukrainian Security and
In Donetsk, the rebels’ Donetsk News Agency reported four rebel fighters died and seven were injured overnight as well as three civilians. One civilian was killed in shelling in Donetsk on Tuesday morning, Basurin told Russian news agencies.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday accused the Ukrainian government of provoking the crisis. The Kremlin has “reliable information” that Ukrainian volunteer battalions crossed the front line Monday night and tried to capture rebel territory, Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
Salvos of heavy-
The Avdiivka coking plant which has switched to natural gas supply after power was cut off on Tuesday, is providing some heating to homes in the town, director Musa Magomedov told The Associated Press, even though its gas reserves are running low.
Pavlo Zhebrivsky, head of the administration in charge of the government-controlled parts of the Donetsk region, said on Facebook his office was working on a plan to evacuate 12,000 residents from Avdiivka.
With no signs of an organized evacuation in sight some residents went to a local bus station, hoping to get away.
Volodymyr Bassak, 67, was waiting for a bus Tuesday morning to go to the city of Kharkiv some 200
“The house was shaking â€” (shelling) was really intense at about four in the morning,” he said as he brushed tears from his eyes.
Both sides in the conflict committed to cease fire and pull back heavy weaponry under a 2015 truce which they have violated several times.
Vasilyeva reported from Moscow. Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, contributed to this report.
Inna Varenytsia And Nataliya Vasilyeva, The Associated Press