Donetsk: An attack on a passenger bus in eastern Ukraine has killed 12 people, likely dealing the final blow to hopes that a short-lived and shaky ceasefire could take hold.
Across Donetsk, the city that Russian-backed separatists call their capital, explosions and the sound of shells whistling overhead are again unnerving the local population. The holiday period was spent in relative tranquillity after a new truce was called in December between government troops and Russian-backed militia. But by late last week, that uneasy calm was steadily unravelling.
In the single largest loss of life so far this year, civilians travelling on a commuter bus from Donetsk were killed yesterday afternoon by what Ukrainians say were rockets fired from a Grad launcher in rebel territory. Regional authorities loyal to Kiev said the bus was passing a Ukrainian army checkpoint at the time, putting it in the line of fire.
Leading rebel representative Denis Pushilin denied responsibility for the attack.
The warring sides are now trading accusations over who is responsible for the breakdown in the truce that led to yesterday's deaths.
Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that separatist attacks in recent days suggest an attempted onslaught to push back the frontline is under way. Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Ukraine's armed forces unilaterally resumed hostilities and that his fighters would respond in kind.
A news agency's reporter over the weekend saw a convoy of around 30 military-style trucks without licence plates heading for Donetsk, suggesting that new supplies were coming in for the rebels.
NATO's top commander, General Philip Breedlove, said yesterday that there has been a continued resupply and training of rebel forces over the holiday period.
"Those continue to provide a concern and something that we have to be thinking about," Breedlove said.
Ukraine and the West have routinely accused Russia of being behind such consignments. Moscow flatly rejects the charges, although rebel forces are so well-equipped with powerful arms that the denials have become increasingly hollow.
"These are separatists that are clearly backed by Russia," US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said yesterday, adding that Russia must do more to stop the violence and restore Ukrainian sovereignty.
In the rebel-held Donetsk suburb of Makiivka, the thrash of outgoing mortars shakes still-inhabited neighbourhoods on a daily basis. Separatists have consistently denied using residential areas for cover, but there are ample eyewitness accounts undermining those claims.