Shelling rocked a bus station in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk Wednesday as fighting continued to rage in eastern Ukraine ahead of crucial peace talks later in the day.
Rebel officials said that five people were killed and nine wounded at the scene of the attack, where an Associated Press reporter saw one body. Donetsk city officials said in a statement that three people had been killed in shelling overnight.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko posted a statement on his website saying that he had made an impromptu visit to the war-torn region early Wednesday. Poroshenko stopped in the city of Kramatorsk, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the nearest front line, where nevertheless Kiev says 16 people were killed and 48 wounded in a rocket strike Tuesday.
“We demand an unconditional peace,” Poroshenko said. “We demand a cease-fire, a withdrawal of all foreign troops, and closing of the border…. We will find a compromise within the country.”
Officials in Kiev also said Wednesday that 19 troops had been killed and 78 wounded in a day of fighting in Debaltseve, a hotly contested transport hub in the region.
Poroshenko will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later for peace talks in Minsk, Belarus. France and Germany, who are brokering the talks, have called on the warring parties to refrain from hostilities that could derail the four-way summit.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said early Wednesday that “quite a number of problems remain” in negotiations aimed at ending the fighting. Fabius said that it was “very probable” but not certain that French President Francois Hollande would attend the talks.
He said difficulties remain on the future of embattled eastern Ukraine, guarantees about the Ukraine-Russia border near the area, and the prospects of a possible cease-fire, weapons pullback and prisoner exchange.
Fabius said the aim of the talks is to win an accord, but “not just one on paper.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s talks, representatives of the separatists, Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe met for talks in Minsk.
These consultations were to continue on Wednesday afternoon, Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov told the AP. Asked whether any progress has been achieved already, Surkov said “it’s too early to say.”