Fighting broke out near the railway station in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Monday, with artillery fire sending plumes of smoke skywards in what separatists said was an attempt by government forces to enter the city they seized in April.
As minibuses brought dozens of rebels to the area in the centre of the city, people fled. The rebels said Ukrainian forces were trying to force them out, days after a Malaysian airliner was brought down about 60 km (37 miles) away. "It is dangerous near the railway station!" the Donetsk city council said in a statement on its website, asking residents in the area to stay indoors.
It said a nine-storey house had been damaged in the shelling and that transport had been halted in the area. "In the morning there were explosions, people are extremely worried," said a local resident who gave her name as Natalya. Donetsk is at the heart of a rebel uprising against rule by Kiev, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to retake the city as part of what Kiev calls its "anti-terrorist operation" against the separatists.
The pro-Western authorities in Kiev accuse the rebel fighters of shooting down the airliner, killing all 298 people on board. The separatists deny they are to blame. Earlier on Monday, three members of a Dutch Disaster Victims Identification team arrived in Donetsk, hoping to check the remains of some of the victims of the plane crash. A team of Malaysian officials were also due to arrive on Monday.
The downing of the airliner has intensified calls for the fighting to end in eastern Ukraine. Sergei Kavtaradze, an official of the rebels' self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said there were at least four tanks and armoured vehicles trying to break through into the city. A spokesman for Ukraine's military operations in eastern Ukraine said the operation was in an "active phase" but could not comment on reports of troops entering Donetsk because he did not want to give away the Ukrainian strategy.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev, writing by Elizabeth Piper, Editing by Timothy Heritage)