12 killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine

Twelve people, including seven civilians, have been killed in the past 24 hours in clashes between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The city administration of the rebel stronghold Donetsk said 23 people were also wounded in shelling across the industrial province.

The military in Kyiv said 23 soldiers were injured in the fighting, which has claimed 5,100 lives over nine months.

The latest clashes have been focused around the government-held town of Debaltseve, which is an important rail junction connecting the two regional centres of the separatist provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk.

The pro-Kyiv head of the Donetsk interior ministry forces said government troops were still in control of the town of 25,000 this morning.

But Donetsk separatist co-leader Andrei Purgin told Russia’s Interfax news agency that the Ukrainian forces were “surrounded”.

He said they were unable to receive new supplies or send their wounded for treatment in regional hospitals.

Mr Purgin also offered to open a “humanitarian corridor” for Ukrainian troops who give up their arms.

Meanwhile, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said the military would reinforce its troops in strategic areas around the country.

He said the move was in response to the “military-political” situation surrounding Russia.

“To that end, we are planning to strengthen our troops and forces in strategic areas,” Mr Shoigu said.

Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff General Valery Gerasimov said Russia is learning to fight against new forms of Western aggression.

He said: “Western countries are actively using new forms of aggression, combining military as well as non-military means.

“Political, economic and information methods are also being used.”