A passenger bus came under heavy fire in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, killing at least 11 people, Ukrainian authorities said, and fighting intensified around the international airport in the city of Donetsk as separatists tried to oust government forces.
The latest violence flared after Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany scrapped plans for a summit in Kazakhstan this week because of the failure to implement a four-month-old ceasefire agreement.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko condemned the bus attack as an act that “chilled the heart” and said the forces of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics were to blame.
“These deaths are on the conscience of the DNR and LNR gangs and on those who stand behind them,” he said in a statement in which he promised to sign a decree on Wednesday to more troops for the front.
A senior official from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called for maximum restraint from all sides in the Ukraine conflict, which has killed more than 4,700 people since last April.
“Over the past 24 hours the situation has significantly deteriorated, especially near the Donetsk airport,” said Ertugrul Apakan, head of the OSCE special monitoring mission in Ukraine.
The war between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels broke out soon after Russia annexed Crimea last year, creating the worst crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War. Western governments accuse Russia of backing the separatists, including by sending in troops, which it denies.
Photographs showed the bus peppered by holes, as were seats inside it. A long trail of blood marked the road beside it near the town of Volnovakha.
A regional Ukrainian administration spokesman said the bus was attacked by rebels using Grad rocket launchers while it was carrying civilians through a government checkpoint.
Separatists denied responsibility and said the bus had been attacked by small arms fire rather than a missile or shell.