Donetsk: Six Ukrainian soldiers were killed by pro-Russian rebels, officials said on Saturday on the eve of separatist elections that Ukraine and its Western backers say will undermine an increasingly hollow truce accord.
Losses in the last 24 hours "as a result of fighting were six servicemen killed and 10 wounded," Volodymyr Polyovy, spokesman for the National Security and Defence Council, said.
Polyovy said the deaths showed that separatist forces "continue to violate the ceasefire agreement" signed September 5.
One of the main attacks took place at the ruins of Donetsk airport, which remains partly in Ukrainian hands, despite lying in territory mostly controled by the separatists, officials said.
Explosions were audible from central Donetsk most of the night, apparently from artillery targeting the airport.
Explosions could be heard about every five seconds, accompanied by the sound of machine-guns, AFP correspondents in Donetsk said.
There was also heavy rebel shelling of Krymske, a village near Lugansk, another major separatist town, the regional governor said.
The bombardments formed a frightening backdrop to elections tomorrow in the self-declared, pro-Russian statelets known as the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic.
There were no signs of polling stations in Donetsk near the airport and rebel soldiers deployed there said they didn't know of any stations in the area. However, there was little doubt about the winners of the two polls, with separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko on course to become head of the Donetsk republic and Igor Plotnitsky in Lugansk.
Separatist authorities, who have close links with their Russian counterparts, say three million ballots have been printed and that voting by Internet has already started. There's even an exit poll planned for late Sunday.
"These elections are important because they will give legitimacy to our power and give us more distance from Kiev," said Roman Lyagin, election commission chief of the Donetsk People's Republic.