At least 27 people are dead and several more injured after rockets hit a busy market in a residential area of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
Eastern Ukrainian rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko declared he did not want peace with Kiev and instead launched a major attack on the government-held port city of Mariupol.
In one of the earliest stages of the offensive, rebels launched several rockets at a market in a residential region of the city, killing at least 27 people and wounding dozens more. The weaponry fired are believed to have been Russian-built BM-21 “Grad” missiles.
Since fierce fighting began in the region in April, more than 5,000 people have died in fighting in the east. The pro-separatist rebels have seized a large swathe of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. More than a million people have been displaced.
In September, a ceasefire was agreed in Minsk but never fully established itself. Many hoped that the lower level of hostilities it introduced would last, but local sources say that the fighting is beginning to approach what was seen last summer.
Mariupol has a population of 500,000 and is in a highly strategic position, sitting between rebel-held eastern areas and Crimea, which was annexed by Russia last March. The city saw heavy fighting in August.
“Today an offensive was launched on Mariupol. This will be the best possible monument to all our dead,” Alexander Zakharchenko was quoted as saying at a memorial ceremony in Donetsk.
Earlier in the day, a rebel spokesman had denied any involvement in the attack on Mariupol.
On Friday, rebel military spokesman Eduard Basurin said 24 rebels had been killed and 30 wounded in recent fighting. He called it “the heaviest losses in our ranks” in a 24-hour period.
In another area of the rebel-held region of Eastern Ukraine, according to local reports, the pro-separatist mayor of Pervomaysk, west of Luhansk, has been killed. The body of Yevhen Ischchenko was found in a car. Three other men were apparently killed along with him. The local rebel leadership blamed Ukrainian agents, but other sources said it was the result of infighting.