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Ukraine conflict: Battles rage ahead of Minsk talks

Fighting has surged in eastern Ukraine as government forces and pro-Russian rebels try

to make gains ahead of possible peace talks on Wednesday.

Separatist forces have carried out rocket attacks on a key military headquarters and a

residential area in Kramatorsk, officials say.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s volunteer Azov battalion has launched an offensive against

separatists around Mariupol.

More than 5,400 people have died since the conflict began last April.

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany hope to meet in the Belarusian

capital Minsk on Wednesday to hammer out a peace deal after months of fighting.

Russia denies Western and Ukrainian accusations of sending troops and supplying the

rebels and has warned the West that sending arms to Ukraine would worsen the crisis.

US President Barack Obama said on Monday that he had not ruled out supplying “lethal

defensive weapons” to Ukraine if diplomacy failed.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told parliament on Tuesday that the government’s

military headquarters at Kramatorsk airfield had been shelled by rebels.

At least five people were killed and 16 wounded when a residential area was also hit, the

government-controlled Donetsk regional administration said. Ten people were injured at

the military base, it added.

Kramatorsk, some distance west of the current conflict zone, was the scene of major

fighting until July, when pro-Russian separatists retreated.

Local authorities said the rockets were fired from the rebel-controlled Horlivka area,

which is about 50km (30 miles) away from the city.

The separatists denied firing the rockets.

Julia Dzuba, a resident of Kramatorsk who caught the shelling on film as it neared the

apartment she lives in with her young child, told the BBC: “I was online, reading news,

and then I heard boom, boom!”

“This is much worse than last summer,” she said. “[T]hey are shooting at each other, and

we are the ones who suffer.”

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