DONETSK: Four Ukrainian soldiers and two civilians were reported killed on Friday in an upsurge in mortar and rocket attacks just days ahead of mooted international talks on the country’s crisis.

Local authorities in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk said two civilians died and seven were injured in clashes around the industrial city’s disputed airport.

The air hub — once the busiest in Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking east — has been held by a skeleton force of government soldiers since late May.

Almost daily attacks on the site by pro-Russian insurgents have resulted in heavy civilian casualties as volleys of long-range rocket fire from both sides go astray.

“After a long spell of quiet, the attacks resumed again tonight,” Oksana, a resident of the airport district, said as sporadic booms echoed in distance.

The 27-year-old mother of three said the area had effectively been cut off from the rest of the city, with public transport coming to a halt when the shelling resumed.

“Our biggest worry is that one of the shells hits a boiler or gas pipeline and we and the children end up having no heat,” she added.

Temperatures in Donetsk have been hovering around minus 10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) as the long winter settles in.

Ukranian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko blamed the spike in rebel attacks on new supplies of weapons that he alleged were provided by Russia under the guise of humanitarian aid.

Russia on Thursday sent its 11th shipment of trucks into eastern Ukraine since the start of the crisis.

Moscow said the convoy — which Ukraine sees as a breach of its sovereignty — was carrying winter supplies for civilians in the militia-controlled regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

“It should be stressed that the terrorists’ provocations are occurring immediately after the arrival in Ukraine of (Russian) humanitarian convoys”, Lysenko told reporters.

Lysenko said the latest Russian supply mission comprised of 124 trucks.

The tensions come less than a week before mooted multilateral peace talks in Kazakhstan.

Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko said in December he hoped to hold rare direct talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at a January 15 meeting in the Kazakh capital Astana that would also include the leaders of Germany and France.

But both the Kremlin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office have said that a specific date for talks is still being discussed.

The foreign ministers of the four countries agreed to meet in Berlin on Monday to try clarify the summit’s timeframe and agenda. The Kremlin added that Putin also discussed the Astana talks’ prospects on Friday with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2015

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