At least 13 civilians and likely dozens more have been killed by continuing artillery barrages, as government troops close in on militia positions around the city of Gorlovka in eastern Ukraine.
A 1-year old - killed next to her parents - and a 5-year old are among the dead, according to information published by the Donetsk regional administration. Several local journalists on the ground have reported that as many as 30 have been killed, as fighting continues.
Government troops reached the outskirts of the city of 250,000
people late on Thursday, and have pushed militia back into
positions inside residential areas.
From about 5am Sunday morning, heavy artillery shells began to explode alongside several of the main highways.
"They were aiming for our headquarters, but missed and hit
residential areas instead," a local militia source told RIA
Novosti news agency.
“One of the mortars hit the top floor of a popular supermarket that had customers inside. Another hit exploded in a courtyard outside an apartment block, and another next to a maternity hospital. We still don’t know how many are dead – there are ambulances everywhere,” local resident Sergey, who did not want to give his surname for fear of reprisals, told RT.
18+ Горловка. Центр. Результат хаотичного обстрела терроров. pic.twitter.com/ai9Y4vhYAV
— Хуёвый Київ (@tombreadley) July 27, 2014
“My house has been reduced to rubble, and one of my in-laws has a piece of shrapnel lodged in his leg, while another has eye damage,” said Vera, another local resident, by phone.
Hundreds of houses have been left without electricity and water,
after infrastructure lines were hit, but the streets of the city
have become deserted as civilians cower in their flats.
“Food supplies are increasingly scarce in the city. In the past few days, black market traders seem to have appeared out of nowhere,” wrote local blogger Egor Voronov.
A church located near a hospital in Gorlovka was damaged during the shelling, Gorlovka and Slavyansk’s Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine reported. The explosions damaged windows, doors, and bell towers.
Officials from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic say the government is using powerful but imprecise BM-21 Grad (Hail) missiles in densely populated areas.
The Ukrainian army is also using even more powerful MRLS - BM-27 Uragan (Hurricane) against the cities under control of self-defense forces. The major difference between Grad and Uragan complexes is their caliber - 122 mm for Grad and 220 mm for Uragan - which has a truly devastating effect of the affected target area.
Kiev’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Headquarters have made a counter-accusation, claiming anti-government forces are responsible for the “bloody acts of terrorism.”
“The criminals are firing indiscriminately upon civilians to recruit more fighters to their cause, and to discredit the Ukrainian government,” officials said on the ATO Facebook page.
ATO officials continued the message by saying that clashes are ongoing in the rural areas around Gorlovka, and claimed that all escape routes from the city have now been cut off.
Nonetheless, DPR field commanders Igor Girkin and Igor Bezler appear to have slipped out of the city, according to sources in the Ukrainian army. The report comes despite an earlier claim by the government that a targeted airstrike succeeded in destroying their temporary headquarters in a government building.
On Saturday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promised that the Ukrainian army – which had been under-equipped and under-trained at the start of the conflict – has now reached battle capacity, and promised that “new tactics” have been adopted that will allow “large-scale civilian losses” to be avoided.
While comprehensive data on casualties during the conflict has been hard to obtain, the Russia-based IGCP monitoring group has concluded on the basis of collated OSCE and ATO data that over 1,100 Ukrainians have died in the conflict since the toppling of Viktor Yanukovich in February.