AVDIIVKA / AP
Fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine escalated on Tuesday, killing at least seven people overnight, injuring many more and briefly trapping 200 coalminers underground, the warring sides reported.
Rebels in Donetsk said an electricity sub-station was damaged in shelling, cutting power to the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk and trapping more than 200 miners inside. 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 back-up generators outside the mine to get the elevators working. By midday on Tuesday, at least 60 of 200 men had been 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 Avdiivka, saying they had been damaged earlier.
The artillery shelling, which appears to be the worst in many months, was concentrated around the government-controlled town of Avdiivka, home to a giant coking plant. Its director said on Monday that preparations were being made to stop production, which has rarely been done during throughout the conflict that has claimed more than 9,600 lives since it began in 2014. A cease-fire deal struck in Minsk in 2015 has helped to reduce the fighting but it never fully stopped. The press office of the Ukrainian government’s operation in the east said on Tuesday that heavy shelling around Avdiivka, on the northern outskirts of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, killed at least three troops and injured 20 more. The office also reported an unspecified number of civilian casualties.
In Donetsk, the rebels’ Donetsk News Agency reported four rebel fighters have died and seven were injured overnight. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Tuesday accused the Ukrainian government of provoking the crisis. The Kremlin has “reliable information” indicating that it was Ukrainian volunteer battalions who crossed the front line Monday night and tried to capture rebel territory, Peskov told reporters in Moscow.