DONETSK, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukrainian forces clashed with pro-Russian insurgents for control of a strategic airport in the restive east Friday and traded blame over the death of a Swiss aid worker, four weeks into their shaky truce.
Heavy fighting engulfed the flashpoint transport hub north of Donetsk, with blasts echoing across the largest rebel-held city throughout the day, but its status remained in dispute.
Separatist fighters said they were in control of almost the entire facility, which includes an old terminal and a brand new one built at a cost of nearly $1 billion for the 2012 football European Championship.
The Ukrainian military confirmed that gunmen had briefly seized the first floor of the old building, but said they had since been pushed out, even though fighting continued.
The weeks-long battle for the prized but no longer operating airport, whose long runway could let the separatists land large planes, has been one of many violations of a Russia-backed ceasefire signed on September 5.
Since then, 71 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians – and an undisclosed number of separatists – have been killed across the Russian-speaking rustbelt, including a staff member of the Red Cross, whose office in Donetsk was hit Thursday.