Russian state media reported Thursday that the Ukrainian military had unleashed “massive mortar fire” upon rebel positions in the eastern Donetsk region.
The Ukrainian military launched the attack the previous evening on the village of Spartak, near the Donetsk airport, and began shelling the airport in the morning, the TASS news agency reported.
“The Ukrainian military has been shelling the militia’s positions at the airport since 9 am [0700 GMT]. The enemy is using 82-mm and 120-mm mortars, automatic grenade launchers and small arms,” TASS cited a rebel source as saying.
The Ukrainian government said rebels launched an attack in the neighbouring Luhansk region, around the settlement of Trohizbenky, as well as near the major Donetsk region city of Mariupol, which is in the south and has remained under government control, according to a statement on the Anti-Terrorist Operation’s Facebook page.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been independently monitoring the conflict for the past year and a half, said Wednesday that it had observed more than 90 explosions and bursts of small arms fire near the rebel stronghold city of Donetsk.
The OSCE did not attribute blame for the escalation in the violence.
The Ukrainian military and the rebels were supposed to have withdrawn small arms from the front lines, according to a deal reached by the presidents of Ukraine and Russia last month. The Ukrainian government and rebel forces had earlier agreed to withdraw heavier weapons.
The rebellion broke out last year after Ukraine ousted its former pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and Russia occupied and annexed southern Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Russia supports the separatists’ cause, but has adamantly denied Kiev’s allegations that it has provided troops and weapons for the conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country is using its influence over the rebels to pursue peace in the region.
More than 8,000 people have died in the conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations.