The shelling of a bus and clashes in Ukraine’s separatist east left 34 people dead yesterday as Kiev was forced to abandon its defense of Donetsk’s airport in one of the deadliest days of the nine-month war.
In the worst incident, 13 civilians died when shelling hit a trolleybus yesterday morning in the rebel bastion of Donetsk, with Kiev alleging that ultimate blame for the tragedy rested with Russia.
The violence came only hours after peace talks in Berlin called for a ceasefire and as the toll from the conflict surpassed 5,000 dead, with 1 million people also forced from their homes.
Another 10,000 people have been wounded by rocket and mortar strikes raining down daily on the industrial region’s residential districts, Michael Bociurkiw of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe told Ukrainian radio.
With intensifying clashes rocking Donetsk airport in recent days, Ukraine’s military said early yesterday that its troops had abandoned the main part of the site.
The airport had become the symbolic prize of the conflict, with the army and pro-Russian rebels continuously battling for control of the devastated site.
“Yesterday evening, we made the decision to leave the new terminal,” military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said in reference to the main airport building that had been held by Kiev forces since late May last year.
The trolleybus shelling was among the bloodiest incidents involving civilians in recent months in a conflict that has devastated the former Soviet republic’s industrial heartland and brought Ukraine’s economy to its knees.
Stunned Donetsk residents gathered around the shredded remains of the bus, with bloodied bodies of elderly victims sprawled in their seats hours after the attack and local militias cautiously inspecting the damage.
An official with the city’s emergency services said 12 people died in the bus, while another was killed in a passing car.
One resident who lives nearby said shelling in the area the day before targeted a military academy housing a headquarters for rebel fighters, killing two militia.
“Today as the shelling began, some people managed to escape from the trolleybus stop,” said Maksim, a 35-year-old teacher. “There are several ambulances and [rebel] military police here. Children are very scared.”
Russian government-controlled television immediately blamed the attack on Kiev’s forces, while Ukraine said the rebels were responsible and added that ultimate responsibility rested with Moscow.
“Russian terrorists again committed a horrible act against humanity,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in statement. “Responsibility for this is borne by the Russian Federation.”
The strike occurred just south of Donetsk city center, with concerns having been raised over shelling that has at times moved closer in from the airport, putting civilians in increasing danger.
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