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Ukraine seizes key town of Avdiivka close to rebel stronghold of Donetsk

Pro-Russian separatists driven out of key town near both the airport and train station

The Ukrainian government said it has driven pro-Russian separatists out of a key town near the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, as fighting continues.

The BBC reports that Ukraine’s army has seized Avdiivka, a strategic town near the airport and train station in Donetsk, while troops have entered the towns of Shakhtarsk and Torez in the Donetsk region, and of Lutuhune in the Luhansk region.

The Ukrainian government claims 19 people have been killed in fighting over the past 24 hours.

The heavy fighting around Donetsk prevented international experts from reaching the MH17 crash site again on Wednesday, while a government official claimed the area near the site had been mined by pro-Russian separatists.

Members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe set out on Wednesday in two vehicles but the frustrated team were turned away after discussions with the rebels at the site. They have been attempting to access the crash area for four days.

Government security spokesman Andriy Lysenko claimed the rebels have mined the approaches to the area, making “the work of the international experts impossible”.

Mr Lysenko denied the Ukrainian army’s moves to win back territory were slowing access to the site through the increased fighting, and said that Ukrainian troops were not conducting operations against the separatists near the site, but instead were attempting to cut off their supply lines to force the rebels to leave the area.

Both incidents have happened on a day when the European Union and the US announced new economic sanctions on Russia, designed to effect key sectors of the country’s economy including energy, weapons and finance.

The new sanctions will see US nationals and people living in America no longer able to bank with the VTB, the Bank of Moscow, and the Russian Agriculture Bank.  

President Obama said the new sanctions would make Russia’s “weak economy even weaker,” while his Secretary of State John Kerry accused the separatists of displaying “an appalling disrespect for human decency” in carrying on fighting near to the MH17 crash site.

Additional reporting from AP