DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Fighting in eastern Ukraine reached the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Tuesday as separatists and government troops exchanged rocket fire in neighborhoods on the edge of the city.
In a western district of Donetsk, rockets apparently fired from a government position landed in the courtyard of a one-story house, killing an elderly resident.
The spread of fighting into the city itself marks a decisive turn for the conflict, but one that will arouse fears of an alarming escalation in the humanitarian crisis gripping the country's easternmost regions.
As government troops try to tighten their encirclement of rebel citadels, officials in Kiev have warned of a spike in Russian troop numbers along the border, arousing renewed fears of intervention by Moscow.
In the morning, an Associated Press journalist saw a tank bearing the Ukrainian blue-and-yellow flag at a key checkpoint in the western suburb of Marinka, which lies on a road into Donetsk.
Rebel combatants could still be seen hunkered down in sniper positions in a nearby area closer to the center.
Defense officials swiftly played down the presence of government troops in Marinka, insisting that more fighting lay ahead before the area could be properly secured.
By the afternoon, however, there were signs the army was looking to advance further into the city.
The shell that landed by the house in western Donetsk's Petrovsky district killed a resident that neighbors identified only as Galina, along with her dog.
An AP journalist saw Galina's body as it was covered by a plastic sheet and carried from her house by rescue workers.
Her next-door neighbor, Sergei Lozinsky, 47, said he was in his house when the blast hit.
"I fell to the ground and covered my head with my arms when the shell fell. It all happened so fast. And my windows were all blown out," he said.
Another neighbor, 32-year old teacher Nataliya Subbota, said Galina had until recently taken refuge in bomb shelters.
"We hid in basements night and day. The shelling would get quiet and then start again. But every day they became more intense," Subbota said, before referring to Galina by a nickname. "Granny Galya got sick of hiding with us in the basement. And now look what has happened."
Separatist fighters responded to incoming fire with rocket attacks of their own.
The sound of return mortar shell fire and the distinctive multiple whooshes of Grad rocket launchers could be heard from areas surrounding the neighborhood targeted by army forces. Mortar shells appeared to have been fired from inside residential areas.
One rebel fighter, who gave his name as Sanya Pskovsky, said he was kept busy all day fighting back the government onslaught.
"I sign every mortar. They get names. Only today I sent 15 mortars. Little gifts," he told the AP.
The onslaught against separatist fighters has focused recently on besieging the main rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the smaller but strategically important town of Horlivka.
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