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Shells land in Russia as eastern Ukrainians flee fighting

© Dmitry Lovetsky, AP | Shelling has hit civilian areas in Donestk.

Video by Rochelle FERGUSON

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-13

Moscow complained of a "dangerous escalation" on Sunday after Russian authorities reported casualties caused by shells fired from Ukraine, where government troops are on the offensive against rebels holed up in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.

A Russian man was killed and two women were injured when shells fired from Ukrainian territory hit two houses in Russia's Rostov region, local authorities said on Sunday. Ukraine's military spokesman Andriy Lysenko denied that government forces were behind the shelling.

Following a previous border incident on Saturday, Russia said it "reserves the right" to defend its territory, while a Ukrainian spokesman said Russian troops were three kilometres from the border and might be trying to set up a supply corridor.

On Saturday, Ukrainian war planes bombarded separatists along a broad front in the country's east, in exchanges marking a sharp escalation in the three-month conflict.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who cancelled a trip to Brazil for the football World Cup final, has used increasingly belligerent rhetoric since pro-Russian separatists killed 23 government troops on Friday.

FRANCE 24 correspondent Gulliver Cragg questions Kiev's claims

Thousands of panicked refugees are flooding highways and packed trains heading out of the main remaining rebel strongholds in eastern Ukraine, fearing attacks by government forces.

"Avoid bloodshed"

The mayor of Donetsk rushed out to meet Poroshenko on Friday to discuss measures that could "avoid bloodshed and the use of air strikes and heavy artillery".

But separatists in control of Ukraine's coal mining capital said locals were not taking any chances after three months of fighting that has claimed 550 lives and sparked the worst East-West standoff since the height of the Cold War.

Rebel commander Igor Strelkov told reporters that a "spontaneous evacuation" was also under way in the neighbouring separatist bastion of Lugansk.

AFP journalists on the ground reported sporadic artillery fire around Lugansk, whose streets were deserted, with the empty bus station hit in a mortar attack on Saturday.

Ukrainian security forces claimed strong gains against the rebels on Saturday, but FRANCE 24's correspondent Gulliver Cragg in Donetsk said they were difficult to verify.

"The figure of more than 1,000 separatist fighters killed seems rather difficult to believe," he said.

"There is an information war in Ukraine with both sides exaggerating, sometimes on a huge scale, the number of people they have killed or, in the case of the separatists, the number of civilians who have died as a result of the fighting – though it is definitely true that here in Donetsk, civilians have been killed in the past three days," Cragg added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-07-13

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