Ten killed in spike in east Ukraine violence

A resident walks in front of her house destroyed by shelling perpetrated by pro-Russian separatists in the village of Sartana, near Mariupol, Donetsk region, on August 17, 2015 (AFP Photo/Sergey Volski)

Kiev (AFP) - Fierce clashes in east Ukraine killed at least 10 people in the past 24 hours, government and rebel officials said Monday, as Russia warned that Kiev could be preparing for a fresh offensive.

The single day death toll is the highest in over a month as both sides accuse each other of gearing up for for an onslaught that would finish off an already-tattered February truce.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov alleged that Ukraine's forces were intensifying their activities in Shyrokine, a flashpoint village 10 kilometres (six miles) from the government-held port of Mariupol.

"We are concerned by the course of events in recent days which very strongly resembles the preparation for more military action," Lavrov said.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of pouring troops and weapons across the border to fuel a conflict that has claimed more than 6,800 lives since April 2014 and has driven at least 1.4 million people from their homes.

Russia denies any links to the pro-Moscow insurgents and officially provides them only with political backing at negotiations and UN Security Council forums.

On the ground, Ukrainian officials reported the death of two soldiers and three civilians, while a rebel commander said five civilians were killed across the conflict zone in the latest surge in violence.

Volodymyr Kolesnyk, a spokesman for the local health department, told AFP that two civilians were killed in overnight shelling in Sartana village some two kilometres (over a mile) northeast of Mariupol.

He said one man was killed and six more civilians were wounded in a Kiev-controlled village close to the rebels' de facto capital Donetsk.

Meanwhile pro-Moscow separatist officials reported the deaths of five civilians in overnight bombardments, three of them in the city of Donetsk.

Kiev's pro-Western forces in recent days have been fighting the rebels for control of a strategic highway linking Donetsk with Mariupol -- the last major government-held city in the region.

Most of the road is currently controlled by pro-Kiev units. Its capture would allow the separatist militants to step up their stop-start campaign to capture Mariupol -- a port city of nearly half a million on the western edge of the loosely defined demilitarised zone.

Mariupol's port exports most of the breakaway east's industrial output and controlling it could be a step towards creating a land bridge between the separatist region and the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula.