Russia-backed separatists have accused the Ukrainian army of killing four and wounding five of their fighters in shelling in Lozove village, close to de facto separatist capital Donetsk.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits positions of the country's armed forces near the line of separation from with Russian-backed rebels in Donetsk Region, Ukraine on June 9, 2021.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits positions of the country's armed forces near the line of separation from with Russian-backed rebels in Donetsk Region, Ukraine on June 9, 2021. (Reuters)

Russia-backed separatists have accused the Ukrainian army of killing four and wounding five of their fighters as a result of shelling in the war-torn east of the country.

Officials in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic said on Monday evening that three of their fighters were killed and one wounded in a mortar fire in the village of Lozove close to the separatists' de facto capital Donetsk.

The separatist mouthpiece, DAN news agency, said one more fighter was killed and four were wounded hours later, when an ambulance car was hit from a grenade launcher while evacuating the wounded.

The new casualties were reported after Russian leader Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden held their first summit meeting in Geneva last week.

The years-long conflict in eastern Ukraine – including an escalation of tensions since the start of 2021 – was on the agenda, but no agreements had been announced.

READ MORE: Russia orders troops back to base after buildup near Ukraine

'Retaliatory steps'

In a statement, top Donetsk official Denys Pushilin said the separatists would take "retaliatory steps" following the incident.

Kiev has been battling Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014, following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

The war has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

After a lull last year, fighting escalated at the start of 2021 and in April Russia amassed 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and in Crimea, prompting warnings from NATO.

Although Russia later announced a pullback, both Washington and Kiev said the withdrawal has been limited.

Kiev and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists, which Moscow has denied. 

READ MORE: Russia warns US, NATO against Ukraine troop deployment

Source: AFP