Fierce fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels left dozens of civilians dead yesterday as Ukrainian troops pushed on with a bloody offensive to break the insurgency in the east of the country.
Deadly battles to crush the ailing rebellion appeared to intensify ahead of a fresh round of diplomatic haggling that will see the presidents of Russia and Ukraine sit down next week for their first meeting in months.
Clashes in the Donetsk region, one of the two separatist areas, have killed 34 civilians since Tuesday, regional authorities said, as troops reclaimed another town from the rebels.
In the city of Makiyivka, adjoining the main rebel bastion Donetsk, residents were woken by shelling in the early hours of yesterday.
The clashes also killed nine servicemen overnight, said security spokesman Andriy Lysenko.
The renewed offensive comes as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gears up for talks with Russia's Vladimir Putin next week over how to end the conflict, which has killed about 2,200 people over the past four months.
Poroshenko said this week thaty the army was regrouping to continue its push on the separatist hubs of Donetsk and Lugansk and to fragment the rebel-held territory to stop the flow of weapons from Russia.
"Both [Kiev and Moscow] are trying to improve their starting positions," said political analyst Oleksiy Golubutskyi. "If Ukraine manages to gain control over Lugansk or even Donetsk before these talks, then the issue of demilitarising them disappears."
In besieged Donetsk, authorities said water supplies had been restored after fighting cut power to a filtering station.
Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko at the weekend boasted his troops had received 1,200 fighters trained in Russia along with heavy equipment, but Moscow has flatly denied it has sent any support across the frontier.