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Rebel city: 34 killed in fighting in 24 hours

KDWN

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Fighting in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donetsk has killed 34 residents and wounded 29 others in the past day, authorities said Wednesday.

Government troops aiming to quell the pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine are trying to encircle Donetsk, the largest city still in rebel hands, and also drive the rebels out of the city of Luhansk. Several neighborhoods in Donetsk have been hit with artillery fire in the last few days as fighting on the outskirts has intensified.

The Kiev-backed administration in Donetsk quoted the death toll of 34 “local residents” as of noon Wednesday on its website.

Earlier, a Ukrainian official said nine troops were killed in overnight fighting in a town near Donetsk as the government battled to gain control of a major railroad and highway. It was not immediately clear if those deaths were in addition to the 34 or included in that count.

Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security Council, said nine soldiers were killed and 22 wounded in fighting in Ilovaysk overnight. Fighting continued in the town Wednesday even though government forces have gained overall control over it, Lysenko said.

Ilovaysk lies on a major railroad and a highway that connects the regional capital of Donetsk to the Russian border.

The situation in the besieged city of Luhansk, a rebel stronghold just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Russian border, remained critical Wednesday as the government and rebels fought running battles in city streets, local authorities said. The city has been without electricity, running water or phone connections for 18 days and residents are reported to be standing in lines to buy bread baked on portable generators as food grows scarce.

The Kiev government also has pursued diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict, which the United Nations says has killed more than 2,000 people and displaced over 340,000 since fighting began in mid-April.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel this weekend in Kiev before meeting next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

Ukraine has accused Russia of arming and supporting the rebels, a charge that Russia denies. The fighting began a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.