Ukrainian forces fought street battles with separatist rebels in the eastern town of Ilovaisk overnight into Wednesday as they sought to isolate rebel strongholds near the Russian border, an Interior Ministry official said.

Nine pro-Ukrainian volunteer fighters, supporting Kyiv’s forces, were killed in the fighting in Ilovaisk, which lies part way along the road from Donetsk, the region’s main hub, and the border with Russia, the official, Anton Gerashchenko, said.

Separately, health authorities said 34 civilians had been killed as a result of fighting in the 24 hours up to noon Wednesday in the wider Donetsk region, one of two big provinces of Ukraine’s industrial east.

Local authorities in the big eastern city of Luhansk said the city rocked with the crash of artillery fire and heavy automatic fire on Wednesday as government forces kept up an assault on rebels who have occupied key buildings there since April, when the separatist rebellions erupted.

Luhansk has been largely cut off for weeks and is without water and regular supplies of electricity which have hit mobile and landline phone connections. Only vital foodstuffs are on sale while long queues form for bread being distributed from touring vans.

“The humanitarian crisis is critical. Since there’s no electricity, people are now cooking meals outside in their yards on open fires,” Oleksander Sabenko, a municipal official, told the Ukrainian news channel 112.ua.

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