Clashes kill eight people overnight and briefly trap more than 200 coal miners underground in eastern Ukraine.

Rebels in Donetsk said an electricity sub-station was damaged in the shelling, cutting power to the Zasyadko coal mine.
Rebels in Donetsk said an electricity sub-station was damaged in the shelling, cutting power to the Zasyadko coal mine.

Fighting between government troops and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine escalated on Tuesday, killing at least eight people late Monday and early Tuesday. The clashes injured dozens and briefly trapped more than 200 coal miners underground, the warring sides reported.

The Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists are accusing each other of launching offensives in eastern Ukraine in defiance of the two-year-old Minsk ceasefire deal signed after Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. The conflict between Ukrainian troops and rebels seeking independence from Kiev has claimed more than 9,600 lives since it began in 2014. Ukraine and NATO accuse the Kremlin of supporting the separatist rebels with troops and weapons.

Rebels in Donetsk said an electricity sub-station was damaged in the shelling, cutting power to the Zasyadko coal mine. The mine is notorious for its lax 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.

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.

Several thousand people in Avdiivka have been without electricity for days. Fighting has cut joff water supplies for most of the town and left it without heating in the dead of winter. Temperatures plunged to minus 18°C (0°F) on Tuesday morning.

Pavlo Zhebrivsky, head of the administration in charge of the government-controlled parts of the Donetsk region, on Facebook said his office was working on a plan to evacuate 12,000 residents from Avdiivka.

With no signs of an organised 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 kilometres (125 miles) north after his home had been without heating for several days.

"The house was shaking — (shelling) was really intense at about four in the morning," he said as he brushed tears from his eyes.

Increasing death toll

Eight Ukrainian troops have been killed and 26 wounded since fighting intensified on Sunday – the heaviest losses for the military since mid-December, according to government figures.

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.

The Minsk peace deal went into effect in February 2015, but international security monitors report ceasefire violations on a daily basis, including regular gun and mortar fire.

Germany and the US have been deploying soldiers and heavy weaponry to Lithuania and Poland respectively. The movements are part of a strategy agreed by NATO leaders last July to reassure member states that were once part of the Soviet bloc and have been alarmed by the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies