At least 10 people were killed on Wednesday as fighting around Donetsk airport spilled into a nearby residential area, with shells hitting a local bus and a school playground in the north of the city.
The shells hit the playground in the Kyivskiy district on the first day of the school year in Donetsk, where the start of term had already been delayed by a month due to safety concerns over fighting in and around the city. No children were killed, but a parent, biology teacher, and rebel wearing military fatigues were among the dead, Reuters reported. Six bodies from the bus, which took a direct hit, were visible in the street, two inside the bus and four more on the sidewalk where emergency services battled to save the lives of the seriously wounded.
Local Ukrainian officials blamed the deaths on the forces of the pro-Russia rebels holding the city.
But, a commander of a rebel unit, Viktor Khalyava, said the school was hit by five Uragan rockets fired by the Ukrainians. "It was a targeted strike on the school," he told Reuters.
Shelling struck a school playground and a nearby bus in Donetsk's Kiev district on October 1, according to Donetsk City Council.
Moscow too has pointed the finger at Ukraine. In an almost an immediate response to the deaths, Konstantin Dolgov, a senior official in the Russian Foreign Ministry described the shelling as a breach of international law. "The particular cynicism of this shelling is the very fact that today was the children's first say at school and on this day, artillery directly targets them. These are blatant, intolerable things" said the ministry's human rights ombudsman.
Head Doctor, Vladimir Klimovitskiy, at Donetsk Traumatology Hospital said that 25 people injured in the incident, six seriously, had been brought into his ward. A further three died in the hospital, Klimovitskiy said.
Misfired shells have repeatedly hit the district as pro-Russia rebels have fought to dislodge besieged Ukrainian forces from the nearby airport. The battle for the strategically important site began in May and clashes in the surrounding area have become a near daily occurrence over the last month.
Local resident Liliia Ivashchenko, who owns an apartment in one of the hit streets, evacuated her son to her mother in Mariupol and moved in to friend's flat in another area of the city more than a month ago as she felt her home had become unsafe due to grad rocket and mortars hits nearby.
"It's very painful for me, this street used to be very busy with people and traffic, children going to kindergarten. Now I see this, burnt out buses and injured people lying on the ground. These weapons shouldn't be used in populated areas, it's a war crime," she told VICE News.
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have highlighted the indiscriminate use of heavy weaponry, including mortars, grad rockets, howitzers and smerch, by both sides in populated areas.
Wednesday's violence comes more than three weeks into a supposed ceasefire that has long only existed on paper. Although officially the peace deal agreed by the warring parties on September 5 in Minsk is still holding, in practice it has been violated near daily ever since it was signed.
Violence is now escalating with heavy fights being reported in several flashpoint areas across the region including districts near Donetsk airport, as well as Debaltseve, Shchastya and Popasna.
On Monday alone heavy fighting in the vicinity of the airport killed seven Ukrainian soldiers and three civilians. A further 28 people were wounded.
The United Nations estimates that more than 3,000 people have been killed in fighting in east Ukraine since the conflict broke out in mid-April and up to 1 million people have been displaced.
UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres has warned of dire consequences if the conflict continues into winter. "If this crisis is not quickly stopped, it will have not only devastating humanitarian consequences, but it also has the potential to destabilize the whole region," Guterres said in a statement. "After the lessons of the Balkans, it is hard to believe a conflict of these proportions could unfold on the European continent," he added.
Wednesday's assault, however, shows the violence is unlikely to halt anytime soon. "Ceasefire? What ceasefire?" said Ivashchenko who is unlikely to be returning to her apartment anytime soon. "There is no ceasefire."
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