Fierce fighting around the besieged Donetsk airport continued Thursday, with a Swiss aid worker killed as conflict between government forces and advancing pro-Russian rebels in the city intensified.
The Red Cross employee died when a shell landed at the organization’s office in a separatist-held part of the eastern Ukrainian city. "We're deeply distressed by this loss,” Ewan Watson, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, told Reuters.
It comes amid mounting civilian casualties in the battle for the control of strategic parts of the city, and puts further strain on the much-violated cease-fire.
On Wednesday, at least 10 people were killed when a shell hit a minibus and a school near Donetsk airport. Children, arriving for the first day of term, were forced to take shelter in the basement as the shelling yielded the highest single civilian toll since the cease-fire took hold early last month.
Four adults were killed in the school according to the pro-Kiev regional government of Donetsk, which blamed the strike on pro-Russian armed groups. A further six died when another shell struck a minibus near the school.
The school's shelling drew strong condemnation from the United Nations. Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said "targeting of schools is unacceptable in any circumstances."
"All parties should redouble their efforts to find a diplomatic solution," he added.
But fighting around the transportation hub continued Thursday, with heavy-black smoke seen rising from the airport’s terminal buildings.
Control of the airport has been disputed over the last few days. On Wednesday, Ukrainian separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko claimed his men had seized 90 percent of the hub, but a defense official in Kiev disputed that claim, instead praising troops for “brilliantly” repelling the rebels.
And an Associated Press reporter saw artillery hit the airport buildings seemingly coming from government-held positions outside Donetsk — a possible indication that Kiev may have lost control.
On Thursday, a representative for the rebel group said it had briefly entered a section of the main terminal before being repelled.
Civilian and military casualties have continued to rise in eastern Ukraine despite the Sept. 5 cease-fire and a second agreement on Sept. 20 that provided a blueprint for a buffer zone aimed at halting any cease-fire breaches.
While that helped to enforce the truce in areas where Ukrainians troops and rebels chose to retreat, non-stop fighting has continued at the airport and other strategic locations.
Both sides have blamed the other for violating the agreement.
Wire Services and Al Jazeera