Over the past several days shells have regularly been crashing into buildings in central Donetsk leaving gaping holes in brick facades and shattered windows. At least one person was killed in the shelling and several more have been injured.
Officially Ukrainian authorities deny shelling civilian areas, but with mounting evidence increasing doubt is being cast on those assurances. The United Nation’s nearly doubled its estimate for the number of people killed in eastern Ukraine to 2,086 as of Aug. 10 from 1,129 on July 26.
In central Donetsk residential buildings, a hospital, and a dentist office have all been hit near a prime target for Ukrainian forces: the rebel headquarters located inside the seized security services building.
Anatoly, a pro-Kyiv resident of Donetsk’s Hrabari district, an area controlled by separatist, said he had witnessed dozens of shells being fired from a westerly direction towards his neighborhood and the surrounding fields. He declined to give his last name, fearing retribution on top of his existing troubles surviving in the war zone.
In a grassy area a mere 150 meters from his home, rebels had positioned a Grad multiple launch missile system that was seen firing in the direction of the incoming shells.
The Ukrainian government says that any shelling of residential areas that seems to be done by Ukrainian forces is actually done by separatists to incriminate Ukrainian forces.
“They [the separatists] intentionally hit residential areas in order to blame it on Ukrainian forces. they don’t strike hit their headquarters or fortifications that is all part of the information war. The goal of that is to convince everyone that Ukrainian servicemen shell Ukrainian civilians,” said Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council (NSDC), at a press conference.
That statement, however, conflicts with a Human Rights Watch investigation that strongly indicates that Ukrainian government forces were responsible for the attacks that occurred between July 12 and 21.
“The four attacks took place close to the front line between insurgent and government forces. Impact craters on the ground and on buildings investigated by Human Rights Watch were characteristic of rocket attacks, not shelling. In all four cases, the angle and shape of the craters, and the fact that they were on the side of buildings facing the front line, strongly suggests that the rockets came from the direction of Ukrainian government forces or pro-Kiev armed groups. The attacks’ proximity to the front line also makes it unlikely, and in some cases impossible, that insurgent forces were responsible for the attacks. In two of the attacks, rockets hit on or near insurgent bases and checkpoints at the same time as they hit residential areas, indicating government forces were responsible,” the report says.
A statement from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine from Aug. 11 states they spoke to a group of refugees from Pervomaisk at a camp in Svatovo, who said their town was being shelled by both Ukrainian military forces and irregular armed forces.
Interviews conducted by the Kyiv Post also support these findings.
In late July, before Ukrainian forces had reclaimed the town of Marinka, it was bombarded by rocket fire flying on a northerly course, suggesting the shells were fired from a position south of town.
When the Kyiv Post visited the area, a Ukrainian army commander named Ruslan, who did not give his last name because he was not authorized to speak with the media, confirmed his unit’s use of Grad rockets against separatist fighters in Marinka. He insisted that they were only fired at "specific" targets and never at locations populated with civilians. Spotters were assisting in finding the targets, he added.
"Yes, we use Grads [rockets]. This is no secret," he said. "But we are firing them at locations where there are no civilians.”
With Ukrainian authorities previously unable to say how many people remained in rebel-held cities it is unclear how accurately they could determine which areas were still inhabited by civilians.
As Ukrainian forces make quick advances against separatists, this shelling also seems to be costing them potential support from locals who no longer align with the separatists.
Anna Petrovna said the building she lives in Donetsk was struck by artillery last week. She says she once supported the rebels’ cause, but not after they brought war to her hometown.
That alienation with separatists is a ripe opportunity for Kyiv, but one current not being used. Anna says she is angry with the methods being used by the Ukrainian government to root out the rebel fighters.
"They shell us everyday. And for what? If they shell the city they might push [the rebels] out, but what type of city does that leave?" she said.
Editor’s Note: This article has been produced for Kyivpost with support from www.mymedia.org.ua, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and implemented by a joint venture between NIRAS and BBC Media Action, as well as Ukraine Media Project, managed by Internews and funded by the United States Agency for International Development.