Fighting rages in eastern Ukraine town, residents flee

NEAR SLAVIANSK Ukraine | Ukrainian government forces battled separatists with artillery and automatic weapons on Wednesday as fighting raged for a second straight day in and around the eastern town of Slaviansk, forcing many frightened residents to flee.

The Kiev government, trying to break rebellions by pro-Russia militias which it fears could lead to dismemberment of the country, said more than 300 rebels had been killed in the past 24 hours in the “anti-terrorist operation” centred on the town, a strategically located separatist stronghold.

Rebels denied this and said losses by the Ukrainian side during a government offensive which began on Tuesday exceeded theirs.

At an army checkpoint on the edge of the town, the crash of heavy artillery shelling could be heard and a plume of black smoke rose above the outskirts. Sustained bursts of automatic gunfire rattled out from leafy areas in nearby fields.

Fleeing the fighting, families came through the barbed wire checkpoint in small groups, taking with them only as much as they could carry.

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