Donetsk: Clashes between Ukraine's army and pro-Russian rebels for control of a battered airport intensified today, with explosions and heavy gunfire shaking the area throughout much of the day and at least six more people killed.
The battle for Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine saw Kiev rush reinforcements to the snowy front lines, while soldiers in the area spoke of some of the worst shelling yet in the nine-month war.
Fighting has flared in the region in recent days, with peace talks having stalled and a September truce in shreds.
"We try to hold on and to reciprocate," one Ukrainian soldier in Pisky, a few kilometres from the airport, told AFP.
"A lot of guys have already died. We have to end it all already, to stop it."
The blackened and wrecked shell of the airport has been repeatedly hit by heavy artillery in months of on-and-off clashes.
It however remains of symbolic and strategic importance, and Ukraine's military maintained that it was defending its positions despite rebel claims that they had taken control of the site.
"The situation there is really difficult," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a briefing.
"There are constant attacks and attempts to attack, but the military command constantly sends reinforcements."
He said three Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and 18 others wounded over the past day, bringing the military's toll to at least nine dead since Thursday.
At least eight civilians have been reported killed over the same period, including one on Saturday when rebels were accused of firing Grad rockets in the city of Popasna in the Lugansk region, according to regional governor Hennadiy Moskal.
A rebel official in Donetsk told AFP that another two civilians were killed and five wounded in shellings that he blamed on Ukrainian forces.
One resident spoke of heavy shelling hitting near her home.
"Very strong shelling started an hour ago," said 27-year-old Oksana. "The lights went out. We can hear the shells explode somewhere nearby."
It was not clear if the new military toll included a soldier killed by a booby-trapped honey jar that exploded in the Lugansk region yesterday.
An elderly man identifying himself as a local resident in Stanicya Luganska handed soldiers at a checkpoint a three-litre jar of honey and thanked them for their service before walking away, said Moskal.