Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have reportedly engaged in some of the worst clashes in the southeastern port city of Mariupol in three months.
Fights broke out in the villages of Lebedinske and Sartana five kilometres east of the city on Monday, resulting in damage to an oil depot and the destruction of at least five houses.
Ten people, including at least two civilians, died in clashes, while several others were reported injured, including a 10-year-old girl who is now in need of a foot amputation.
“A child with a ripped off foot was taken by an ambulance to town hospital No.3. Two other residents, one missing an arm, another one missing a leg, were admitted to a town hospital No.4. Several civilians managed to walk to hospitals on their own and requested medical assistance," government forces press officer Yaroslav Chepurniy told the 0629 news website.
According to Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, a stadium was also damaged in shelling.
Shelling in the region has been intensifying in recent days as rebels attempt to gain control over a key strategic road linking the Mariupol port on the Sea of Azov to their self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk.
Control of the coastal city will also form a land bridge connecting pro-Russian rebels in the east of Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in March 2014.
European Union officials last week warned that the Minsk 2 ceasefire agreement between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels in February is being violated as fierce fighting rages on in the country’s east.
The warning was issued after heavy fighting was reported in several government-controlled areas of Starohnativka, 50 kilometres from Mariupol, allegedly violated “the spirit and the letter of the Minsk Agreements.”
Representatives from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been monitoring the conflict in eastern Ukraine on the ground, reporting on possible breaches of the ceasefire, but even they have been caught in the crossfire.
Last week, armoured vehicles belonging to the OSCE were targeted in an arson attack, while monitors were also caught up in fighting in the city of Luhansk as well as Shyrokyne, near Mariupol.
According to the United Nations, almost 7,000 people have been killed since fighting broke out in the region in April last year, in the wake of Euromaidan revolution that deposed pro-Russian Ukrainnian leader Viktor Yanukovych.