Kiev: Ukraine's army shelled the main rebel bastion of Donetsk yesterday as Russia called for a humanitarian ceasefire, which the West warned could be a pretext by Moscow to send in troops.
Shelling started early in the morning and continued throughout the day in the one-million strong eastern city, which pro-Russian rebels said was now surrounded by Ukrainian forces.
Ukraine's government reported four dead as troops and insurgents continued to clash for control of the industrial east.
Kiev also complained that Russian aircraft and drones were violating its airspace.
Amid a looming humanitarian crisis in rebel-held cities — where residents were without water, power and with little food — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a renewed push for a truce to be able to bring aid to eastern Ukraine.
The West fears however that Moscow, accused of supporting the insurgents, may want to use an aid mission as cover to send troops into its ex-Soviet neighbour.
US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have warned that any unilateral move by Moscow into Ukrainian territory would be "illegal" and "unacceptable".
In the renewed shelling of Donetsk yesterday, city authorities reported that a home and a clinic north of the centre had been hit, injuring at least one person.
Journalists on the ground heard more than 20 explosions in the early morning and witnessed the assault continuing during the day.
A maternity hospital had its windows shattered while mothers and babies huddled in the cellar for safety, one journalist reported. Several women said they gave birth in the below-ground area.
Ukrainian forces have been forging on with an operation to wrest back control of the main rebel-held cities in the east, cutting them off from the Russian border.
Central Donetsk has been repeatedly targeted in recent days. Yesterday, Ukraine's military said it was "tightening its grip" on the city.
The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, admitted earlier that the city was surrounded and urged a ceasefire to avert a humanitarian crisis there.
But yesterday he made it clear that a truce would require a complete withdrawal by Ukraine's military from the east.
"As long as the Ukrainian army continues fighting, there cannot be a ceasefire," he said.