An airstrike demolished an apartment block in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, killing at least 11 civilians, regional officials said. The attack adds to the steadily growing number of civilians killed over four months in a dogged pro-Russian insurgency.
The devastation bore signs of a strike by several missiles and left only a mountain of smoking debris. The four-story apartment block appeared to have been hit in two separate spots, causing the collapse of several tiers, and a nearby house was also destroyed.
Health officials in the rebel-dominated Donetsk region, where Snizhne is located, said 11 people were killed in the strike. Rescue workers managed to pull one small child with broken legs alive from the rubble, as grieving residents sifted for belongings. An Associated Press reporter counted six large impact craters.
Government officials denied local resident claims that the Tuesday strike was carried out by Ukraine's air force, but did not say whom they blame. Rebel forces are not known to have access to airpower.
Ukraine's Defence Ministry insisted the bombing could not have been carried out by the air force as none of its planes were on sorties at the time of the strike. Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko called the incident a "cynical and bloody provocation" aimed at discrediting the armed forces.
No reliable official recent death toll has been produced, but many hundreds of civilians are known to have been killed to date. Authorities said Tuesday that 258 servicemen have been killed in fighting and 922 injured.
The separatist Luhansk People's Republic said that 12 more civilians were killed Monday evening in the eastern city of Luhansk following rocket attacks and airstrikes. It was not immediately possible to verify those claims.
On Monday, Ukraine said one of its military transport planes carrying eight personnel was shot down by a missile fired from Russian territory. Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said there was "unconditional evidence" that Russia was involved in downing the craft, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported Tuesday.
Defence Ministry representatives initially suggested all those on the plane had survived and been accounted for. The ministry updated its account to specify that while four on the plane were evacuated, another two were taken captive by rebels and that the whereabouts of two more is unknown.
In the last two weeks, the government has halved the territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists, who have been forced back into the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. Many in the armed insurgency are known to be Russian nationals, but Moscow says they are simply citizens who went to fight in Ukraine on their own.