Donetsk: Pro-Russian insurgents launched repeated raids on Thursday on an airport held by isolated Ukrainian forces as a month-old truce came under renewed strain and calls grew for the Kremlin to help halt the bloody revolt.
Smoke billowed today over the northern half of Donetsk as resurgent rebels -- backed up by what NATO claims are hundreds of elite Russian forces -- tried to stage a final push on the devastated airport they have set their sights on since May.
"There is a huge fire burning at the airport. It is probably due to the fuel," a representative at the Donetsk separatist headquarters said as periodic rounds of machinegun fire echoed through deserted streets.
Ukrainian defence spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said the militiamen used tanks to shell besieged government forces who control the main terminal but none of the roads leading to what was once the east's busiest air hub.
The Donetsk rebel representative said gunmen had briefly entered a section of the main building on Wednesday before they were repelled.
Nearly 70 Ukrainian troops and civilians -- along with an undisclosed number of separatist gunmen who control swathes of eastern Ukraine -- have been killed since Moscow and Kiev signed a 12-point peace pact on September 5.
But the five-month uprising has barely slowed and the rebels continue to reject Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's efforts to save the ex-Soviet country from disintegration by offering autonomy to its ethnically Russian parts.
Ten civilians died in Donetsk on Wednesday when a school and a bus station were shelled.
The sides traded blame but Amnesty International said both were responsible because they continued using often indiscriminate rocket fire in neighbourhoods lined with apartment blocks and community centres.
The upsurge in violence prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- viewed as Kiev's closest and most powerful European ally -- to call Russian President Vladimir Putin and remind him of Moscow's "responsiblity" to rein in the rebels.
Ukraine's security concerns have been exacerbated by a new gas war with Russia that threatens to leave parts of the nearly-bankrupt country without heating through the long winter months.
Russia nearly doubled Ukraine's gas price a few weeks after the February ouster in Kiev of a Kremlin-backed president who had earlier rejected a historic EU trade and political association deal.