A resident of the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, Lugansk region, on July 28, 2014, walks near an APC burnt during combat between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian militants.
At least 22 civilians were killed on Tuesday as violence between government forces and pro-Russian separatists engulfs eastern Ukraine.
The use of unguided rockets has dramatically escalated the violence in the area in the weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down. Though eastern Ukraine has been entrenched in bloodshed over the past few months, it's different this time around. The fighting is no longer confined to the rural outskirts; it's now spilling over into the cities and residential areas. As a result, civilian casualties are mounting.
In Donetsk, the main rebel city in the east, three shells hit an apartment building in the center of the city on Tuesday, killing at least one as 50 others hid in an underground parking area. Although the city is the separatist stronghold, government forces have refrained from attacking the most populated areas. The rebels accused the Ukrainian government of of using heavy artillery in the area, but Ukraine says it has banned usage of such weapons in residential areas, adding that separatists target civilians to discredit the army.
The city is quickly emptying out as residents started fleeing by the busload last week. Though a few people have remained, Donetsk is virtually a ghost town and a shell of its former self with blown-out buildings.
However, in Luhansk, another embattled eastern city, rebels have reportedly blocked the railroad out of the city, preventing any residents from fleeing, according to Ukraine's security spokesman Andriy Lysenko, who also accused the rebels of using children as human shields.
A spokesperson from Luhansk's city hall, which is controlled by the rebels, said on Tuesday that five people were killed when a home for the elderly was hit by artillery fire.
In Horlivka, an eastern city besieged by government troops, the mayor's office reported that 17 people, including three children, had been killed as a result of shelling.
The video below, which has been verified, shows the shelling in Horlivka.
This video, which has also been confirmed, is an up-close view of the aftermath.
Along with the mounting civilian casualties, Lysenko said at a press briefing on Tuesday that several fighters from Ukraine's army have died in clashes over the past day.
"As a result of armed clashes, 10 servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been killed and another 55 have been injured in the past 24 hours," said Lysenko said.
The wounded troops are now receiving medical treatment at hospitals, he added.
The Malaysia plane crash site is in jeopardy
Meanwhile, just 40 miles from Donetsk, the crash site of MH17 remains fragile and threatened as Ukraine's foreign minister accuses the separatists of trying to manipulate the scene. International investigators who have been trying to gain access to the site this week have turned back multiple times because of intense fighting rages around it.
A United Nations monitoring mission in Ukraine said there has been an alarming buildup of heavy weaponry in civilian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk — including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles that are being used to inflict increasing casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
The separatists are behaving as if backed into a corner. They are extremely jittery and testy, especially with journalists, said Mashable's Christopher Miller, who left Donetsk over the weekend for Kiev.
U.S. plans gut-punch sanctions against Russia
But it's no longer just pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces that have sent the eastern part of the country into a tailspin.
The Pentagon said on Friday that Russia is intensifying its military action near the border with Ukraine, slowly but steadily amassing troops along boundary lines. There are now more than 12,000 Russian troops waiting at the border with Ukraine.
Powerful rocket systems from Russia are moving closer to the Ukrainian border and their arrival over the border and into Ukraine is now "imminent," Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said on Friday. The weapons systems could be in separatists' hands at any time, he said.
The United States and the European Union have been hitting Russia with several rounds of sanctions ever since masked Russian gunmen began popping up in Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine. Despite the threat of an economic toll on Russia's economy,
President Vladimir Putin still pressed on with annexing Crimea. Now, he doesn't seem to be removing his hands from Ukraine's east either.President Vladimir Putin still pressed on with annexing Crimea. Now, he doesn't seem to be removing his hands from Ukraine's east either.
"We know with confidence that the Ukrainians did not have such a system anywhere near the vicinity at that point in time," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week. "So it obviously points a very clear finger at the separatists."
Frustrated by the ineffectiveness of those sanctions, the U.S. and EU are now preparing a powerful one-two punch against the Russian economy. EU ambassadors are meeting Tuesday to discuss a dramatic escalation in the trade bloc's sanctions.
In a rare videoconference call with President Barack Obama on Monday, the leaders of Britain, Germany, Italy and France expressed their willingness to adopt new sanctions against Russia in coordination with the United States, an official French statement said. The Western nations are demanding Russia halt the alleged supply of arms to Ukrainian separatists and other actions that destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine.
Until now, the trade bloc has only targeted Putin's inner circle — specific individuals, businesses or rebel organizations. However, the measures that are now on the table include limiting Russia's access to European capital markets and halting trade in arms and dual-use and sensitive technologies.
Tags: MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT 17 IN UKRAINE, RUSSIA, U.S., Ukraine, US & World, WORLD