At least 15 people, including children, have been killed in shelling in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said Saturday.
Pro-Russian separatists are blamed for the attack on residential areas in the port city, said Donetsk regional police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin on his Facebook page.
Among the victims is a 12-year-old girl, the Interior Ministry said. Government officials earlier reported at least 10 deaths in the shelling. Some 46 people have received shrapnel wounds.
Based on preliminary assessments, the shells were fired from GRAD rocket systems, according to a statement from the Mariupol City Council.
The statement also said the situation was under control, and urged residents not to panic and to rely on information from official sources only.
The reported incident comes amid a surge in fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels.
Thousands have been killed since the conflict broke out in the spring, and a ceasefire agreed to in September in Minsk, Belarus, crumbled long ago.
‘Callous disregard for human life’
U.S. officials took to Twitter to condemn the latest violence.
“Today’s indiscriminate shelling of Mariupol (is) part of an apparently Russian-backed general offensive in complete violation of Minsk agreements,” said U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.
“Russia’s escalation continues — Kremlin’s callous disregard for human life (incl Russian soldiers) on full display in Ukraine,” said Daniel Baer, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia met this week in Berlin to discuss a way out of the violence. But despite the talks, violence in the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk regions shows no sign of abating.
Thursday’s shelling of a transit stop in Donetsk city — an attack that Ukraine’s Defense Ministry blamed on rebels — killed eight civilians, according to state news reports. But Ukrainian troops have come under heavy fire, as well.
That includes 115 attacks in a recent 24-hour period that killed three troops and wounded 50 more, Ukrinform, the Ukrainian national news agency, reported Friday.
The OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine condemned continuing fighting in civilian areas in a statement Saturday and urged both sides to refrain from using force in such areas, including near Donetsk airport.
“Using residential areas as firing positions attracts counter-firing to these areas, further endangering the lives of civilians,” it said.
“All parties need to take robust and immediate action in order to end the new escalation in fighting and its heavy toll on civilians.”
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of sending troops and equipment over the border. In a bid to put pressure on Moscow over Ukraine, the United States and European Union have imposed financial sanctions against Russian interests.
On Wednesday, for instance, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that “more than 9,000 Russian troops (crossed) our Russian-Ukrainian border, bring with them hundreds and hundreds of tanks, armed personnel carriers, and killing Ukrainian civilians and attacking Ukrainian troops.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the wave of recent casualties on those giving the order to fire in heavily populated areas, in remarks reported by the state-run Itar-Tass news agency Friday.
“Those who give such criminal orders bear responsibility for this. People doing that should know that there is no other way of resolving such conflicts than peace negotiations and political measures,” he said.
Putin also suggested Ukraine was not interested in finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis and said he hoped “common sense” would prevail.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southeastern Crimea region, as pro-Russia separatists claimed control of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
From mid-April to January 21, the conflict killed at least 5,086 people and injured at least 10,948 others, said the United Nations.
“We fear that the real figure may be considerably higher,” the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said about the death toll in a report released Friday.
By Laura Smith-Spark and Radina Gigova, CNN