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Rescue workers: Ukraine airstrike kills civilians

People board buses as they depart as refugees to Russia in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Monday, July 14, 2014. Five busloads of Internally Displaced People from the towns of Slavyansk, Karlovka, Maryinka and Donetsk left here Monday morning for the Rostov region in Russia to ask for refugee status there. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) -
People board buses as they depart as refugees to Russia in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Monday, July 14, 2014. Five busloads of Internally Displaced People from the towns of Slavyansk, Karlovka, Maryinka and Donetsk left here Monday morning for the Rostov region in Russia to ask for refugee status there. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
— image credit:

By Mstyslav Chernov, The Associated Press

SNIZHNE, Ukraine - An airstrike demolished an apartment block in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, killing at least nine civilians, rescue workers said. The attack adds to the steadily growing number of civilians killed over four months in a dogged pro-Russian insurgency.

Government officials denied the Tuesday strike was carried out by Ukraine's air force. Rescue workers in Snizhne, a town held by separatist rebels, said they have retrieved nine bodies as residents sifted through the rubble for belongings.

No reliable official recent death toll has been produced, but many hundreds of civilians are known to have been killed to date.

Ukraine's Defence Ministry has insisted the bombing could not have been carried out by the air force as none of its planes were on sorties at the time of the strike. Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko called the incident a "cynical and bloody provocation" aimed at discrediting the armed forces.

Officials have not specifically spelled out whom they blame; rebel forces are not known to have access to airpower.

On Monday, Ukraine said one of its military transport planes carrying eight personnel was shot down by a missile fired from Russian territory. Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said there was "unconditional evidence" that Russia was involved in downing the craft, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported Tuesday.

In the last two weeks, the government has halved the territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists, who have been forced back into the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk. Many in the armed insurgency are known to be Russian nationals, but Moscow says they are simply citizens who went to fight in Ukraine on their own.

The scene at Snizhne showed signs of a strike by several missiles. A four-story apartment block appeared to have been hit in two separate spots, causing the collapse of several tiers, and a nearby house was also destroyed. Rescue workers managed to pull one small child whose legs had broken from under the rubble.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene counted six large impact craters. Local residents told The AP that they had no doubt the attack had been carried out by the Ukrainian Air Force.

Ukraine has over recent days repeatedly accused Russia of involvement in attacks on its troops and supplying rebels with weaponry.

On Tuesday, Lysenko said Ukrainian border guards came under gunfire from inside Russian territory. He did not specify that he believed Russia to be directly responsible for the attack.

Moscow has in turn accused Ukraine of shelling a border town inside Russia, killing one person. Ukraine denies firing shells onto foreign soil.

A delegation of diplomats and international journalists were visiting the site of the shelling Tuesday in what a senior Russian Defence Ministry official termed an "act of good will."

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