As many as 14 people were killed in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Friday after fresh shelling hit targets across the city center, including a line of people waiting for aid at a humanitarian collection point, according to Ukrainian online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda and CNN, which both cited sources with the pro-Russian rebels who control the city.
While the deaths could not be independently verified, CNN reporters said that they saw seven bodies in Donetsk city center after a series of shell blasts. In addition, another five were seen at Hotel Europe, where a local billionaire had arranged for food to be distributed to locals. CNN reported that a shell landed next to the line of people.
Two more bodies were seen near a bus stop that was apparently hit by another shell.
It is not clear who is responsible for the shelling. Similar events over the last few weeks have resulted in rebels who have proclaimed the Donetsk People's Republic and the Ukrainian military blaming each other. The Ukrainian government denied Friday that its forces had fired the shells that hit the city. Volodymyr Polevoy, deputy head of the information analysis centre at the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, said, according to the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda as translated by news site The Interpreter, that "the Ukrainian army has not carried out active combat operations in the Donetsk area today."
So far, fighting had largely taken place outside Donetsk, with skirmishes breaking out between separatists and government troops in towns and villages near to the embattled Donetsk airport, where fighting has largely continued in spite of September’s ceasefire. But since the breakdown of peace talks earlier this month, pro-Russian rebels have mounted a large offensive across the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- with assistance from the Russian military, claim NATO and European Union officials.
The recent fighting has brought the number of deaths to more than 5,000 people since the East Ukraine war began in April 2014. Nearly 1 million civilians have been displaced. Those who have remained in the Donbass region face increasingly desperate times, relying on handouts of food, water and clothing to survive the freezing temperatures.
People in Donetsk rely on aid for basic necessities. The Ukrainian government has stopped paying pensions and salaries, and banks have no access to cash, leaving people without income and at risk of starvation.
In light of the recent developments, peace talks planned to take place in neighboring Belarus on Friday were canceled, according to a Reuters report.