SNIZHNE, Ukraine – An airstrike demolished an apartment block in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, killing at least 11 civilians, regional officials said. The attack adds to the steadily growing number of civilians killed over four months in a dogged pro-Russian insurgency.
The devastation bore signs of a strike by several missiles and left only a mountain of smoking debris. The four-story apartment block appeared to have been hit in two separate spots, causing the collapse of several tiers, and a nearby house was also destroyed.
Resident Igor Chernetsov lost his wife in the attack. “I heard an explosion and suddenly I was thrown out of the apartment out of the 4th floor,” said Chernetsov, his head swathed in a bandage. “I woke up covered in dust and had no idea what had happened.”
Health officials in the Donetsk region, where the rebel-held town of Snizhne is located, said 11 people were killed. Rescue workers managed to pull one small child with broken legs alive from the rubble, as grieving residents sifted for belongings. An Associated Press reporter counted six large impact craters.
Government officials denied local resident claims that the Tuesday strike was carried out by Ukraine’s air force, but did not say whom they blame. Rebel forces are not known to have access to airpower.
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry insisted the bombing could not have been carried out by the air force as none of its planes were on sorties at the time of the strike. Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko called the incident a “cynical and bloody provocation” aimed at discrediting the armed forces.
Sergei, a rebel commander at the scene who declined to give his surname, said locals bore witness to Ukrainian involvement.
“Many local citizens saw the plane that dropped the bomb – it had Ukrainian markings,” he said. “Why Ukraine would bomb its own territory is harder for me to say.”
No reliable official recent death toll has been produced, but hundreds of civilians are believed to have been killed to date. Authorities said Tuesday that 258 servicemen have been killed in fighting and 922 injured.
Separatist in Luhansk said that 12 more civilians were killed Monday evening in the eastern city of Luhansk following rocket attacks and airstrikes. It was not immediately possible to verify those claims.
On Monday, Ukraine said one of its military transport planes carrying eight personnel was shot down by a missile fired from Russian territory. Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said there was “unconditional evidence” that Russia was involved in downing the craft, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported Tuesday.
Defence Ministry representatives initially suggested all those on the plane had survived and been accounted for. The ministry updated its account to specify that while four on the plane were evacuated, another two were taken captive by rebels and that the whereabouts of two more is unknown.
In the last two weeks, the government has halved the territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists, who have been forced back into the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. Many in the armed insurgency are known to be Russian nationals, but Moscow says they are simply citizens who went to fight in Ukraine on their own.
Ukraine has over recent days repeatedly accused Russia of involvement in attacks on its troops and supplying rebels with weaponry.
On Tuesday, Lysenko said Ukrainian border guards came under gunfire from inside Russian territory. He did not specify that he believed Russia to be directly responsible for the attack.
Moscow has in turn accused Ukraine of shelling a border town inside Russia, killing one person. Ukraine denies firing shells onto foreign soil.
A delegation of international military attaches and reporters Tuesday visited the site of the shelling, in the Russian border town of Donetsk, in what a senior Russian Defence Ministry official termed an “act of good will.” Officials showed a residential building damaged by the rocket and a series of craters next to a border crossing.
Associated Press reporters Dmitry Kozlov in Donetsk, Russia, and Peter Leonard in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed to this report.
© The Canadian Press, 2014