Ukraine School’s Playground Shelled, Rebels Near Donetsk Airport

DONETSK, Ukraine - Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine advanced Wednesday on the government-held airport in Donetsk, pressing to seize the key transportation hub even as the two sides bargained over a troop pullout under a much-violated truce. At least nine people were killed in the crossfire Wednesday in residential areas near the airport.

Civilian and military casualties have continued to rise in eastern Ukraine despite a cease-fire Sept. 5 and a second agreement Sept. 20 that spelled out how to create a buffer zone. While that helped to enforce the cease-fire in areas where Ukrainians troops and rebels chose to retreat, non-stop fighting has continued at the airport and other strategic locations. While the Donetsk airport building has been gutted by shelling, its long runway would let the rebels handle heavy cargo planes carrying supplies, instead of relying solely on truck convoys from Russia.

The increasingly violent battle has pounded Donetsk's northern neighborhoods in a conflict that has claimed at least 3,500 lives since April, a month after Russia annexed Crimea. One shell exploded Wednesday in a school courtyard in northern Donetsk and an AP reporter saw bodies of three people killed by it. Shortly afterward, another shell hit a nearby bus stop, killing three people seen by the AP. A minibus that was also hit was still burning hours later.

The Donetsk city council said three people were killed at the school — a teacher and two parents — and 70 schoolchildren were there at the time. It also said six people were killed and several wounded at the bus stop.

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- Associated Press