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Death toll mounts as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine

At least one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and more injured in the country's east as heavy fighting between government troops and Russia-backed rebels continues, reports say.

The reports came as heavy shelling was heard in the centre of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Wednesday morning.

The flare-up in eastern Ukraine, which began over the weekend, killed eight people including civilians late on Monday and early on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian government's press office for the operation in the east said the latest death occurred later on Tuesday.

Fighting is concentrated around the suburb of Avdiivka, on the northern outskirts of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, where residents have been without electricity for days.

The UN Security Council has urged "an immediate return to the ceasefire".

Council members, including Ukraine which is serving a two-year term, expressed "grave concern about the dangerous deterioration of the situation in the eastern Ukraine and its severe impact on the local civilian population".

The council condemned the use of weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements on ending the conflict and called for their implementation.

Members expressed "full support" for the "sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine".

Fighting around Avdiivka has cut water and power supplies for most of the town and it was left without heating in the dead of winter. Temperatures have plunged to minus 18C (0F).

The warring sides blamed each other for the spike in hostilities, the worst in months.

The Ukrainian government was considering evacuating 12,000 residents from Avdiivka, said Pavlo Zhebrivsky, head of the administration in charge of the government-controlled parts of the Donetsk region.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accused the Ukrainian government of provoking the hostilities to distract public attention from domestic issues.

He said the Kremlin has "reliable information" that Ukrainian volunteer battalions crossed the front line on Monday night and tried to capture rebel-controlled territory.

He added that Kiev's "aggressive actions" threaten to derail a 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany.

The agreement obliging the warring sides to hold fire and pull back heavy weaponry has been regularly violated.

Kiev is worried that Donald Trump's administration could ease some sanctions on Russia that the US imposed for the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and support for the insurgency in the east.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the escalation of hostilities proves the sanctions must be kept in place "to bring the aggressor to justice".

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