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Shelling in rebel-held Ukrainian city kills 4

By Peter Leonard

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 7 2014 11:18 a.m. MDT

A local resident reacts as he inspects the damage after shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. Fighting in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk claimed more civilian casualties, bringing new calls from Russian nationalists for President Vladimir Putin to send in the army .

Sergei Grits, Associated Press

DONETSK, Ukraine — Sustained shelling in the main rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine struck residential buildings and a hospital, killing at least four people and wounding 10 others, officials said, as government forces pressed forward in their campaign to rout the separatists.

Mortar fire struck the Vishnevskiy Hospital in Donetsk on Thursday morning, killing one and wounding five others, Donetsk city council spokesman Maxim Rovensky told The Associated Press.

"There was a sudden explosion," witness Dr. Anna Kravtsova said. "A mortar round flew through the window."

The shelling, which destroyed an array of equipment in the dentistry unit, also hit three nearby apartment buildings.

It followed a night of shelling in another neighborhood as the fighting between the government and pro-Russian separatists is inching ever closer to the city center. The mayor's office said in a statement posted on its website that three people had been killed, five wounded and several residential buildings destroyed during those attacks.

The government denies it uses artillery against residential areas, but that claim has come under substantial strain in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have been fighting the Kiev government since April. Ukraine and Western countries have accused Moscow of backing the mutiny with weapons and soldiers, a claim the Russian government has repeatedly denied.

The West has also accused Russia of most likely providing the insurgents with surface-to-air missiles that may have been used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over rebel-held territory on July 17, killing all 298 people on board.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who met with leading officials in Ukraine on Thursday, said that the military alliance stood ready to support Ukraine with advisers and assistance.

While stopping short of committing to direct assistance in Ukraine's ongoing conflict, he said that NATO would intensify its cooperation with Ukraine on defense planning and reform.

Clashes erupted in central Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, as city authorities sought to clear away the remnants of a tent colony erected by demonstrators involved in the street uprising against pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych. At the time, protesters were angry about endemic corruption and wanted closer ties with the European Union.

In scenes reminiscent of that revolt, which climaxed with Yanukovych's ouster in February, demonstrators set alight tires in their face-off against a volunteer battalion overseeing the clean-up operation.

In eastern Ukraine, government troops have made tentative progress in their strategy to retake Donetsk and other towns and cities. Armed forces have refrained from pitched urban battles, and instead favored pushing back their opponents with artillery fire. It has led to a growing number of civilians casualties.

Vishnevskiy Hospital, one of the city's larger medical treatment facilities, is around 4 kilometers (less than 3 miles) from the main square. It has been used to provide treatment to civilian victims of the ongoing conflict.

"The hospital became a nightmare. This is absurd," said 37-year old patient Dmitry Kozhur. "We came here to keep living, but now we are risking death."

Kozhur said he now wants to join the 300,000 people that the mayor's office says have already abandoned the once 1 million-person strong city.

As AP reporters were leaving the hospital, they heard the sound of four rounds of artillery being fired from a nearby neighborhood under rebel control. Although it wasn't immediately possible to confirm the sequence of events, it appeared that the shells that hit the hospital may have been a response to rebel fire.

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