Fighting between government troops and separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine escalated on Tuesday, killing at least seven people overnight, injuring many more and trapping 200 coalminers underground, the warring sides reported. Rebels in Donetsk said an electricity sub-station was damaged in shelling, cutting power to the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk and trapping more than 200 miners inside. The mine is notorious for its safety standards; 33 people were killed there in 2015 by a methane blast.
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Separatist military spokesman Eduard Basurin, in an interview with Russian state Rossiya 24 television today, denied reports that separatist shelling cut power lines and heating stations in Avdiivka, saying they had been damaged earlier.
Artillery shelling, which appears to be the worst in many months, was concentrated around the government-controlled town of Avdiivka, home to a giant coking plant. Its director said yesterday that preparations were being made to stop production, which has rarely been done during throughout the conflict that has claimed more than 9,600 lives since it began in 2014.
The press office of the Ukrainian government’s operation in the east said on Tuesday that heavy shelling around Avdiivka on the northern outskirts of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk killed at least three troops and injured 20 more.
The operation headquarters also reported an unspecified number of civilian casualties. In Donetsk, the rebels’ Donetsk News Agency reported four rebel fighters have died and seven were injured overnight. Salvos of heavy-caliber artillery were heard throughout the night and late morning in Avdiivka, where several thousand people have been living without electricity for days. Fighting has cut water supplies for most of the town and it was left without heating in the dead of winter. Temperatures plunged to -18 degrees Centigrade (0 degrees Fahrenheit) today morning.
The local hospital was flooded with injured soldiers during the night who were operated on and shipped to a town further away from the front line, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. Several private houses were damaged in the shelling.