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People look through the front windshield of a damaged trolleybus in Donetsk, Jan. 22, 2015.

At least nine civilians were killed and several more injured on Thursday morning after a trolleybus was apparently hit by mortar fire in a rebel-held part of Donetsk, the BBC reports.

The deaths came after Ukraine’s Defense Ministry announced late Wednesday that its army had withdrawn from the main terminal of the fiercely-contested Donetsk airport. The loss of Donetsk airport is no longer in use but holds strong symbolic value in the conflict and will be seen as a major blow to pro-Kiev forces. At least six soldiers have been killed and 16 wounded in recent fighting.

Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov argued instead that the surrender was a tactical withdrawal: “We continue to control the southern part of the airport…we left the new terminal because it looks like a sieve and there’s simply nowhere to hide there.”

It is unclear whether the bus attack was connected with the fighting at the airport, with both sides offering different accounts of the event. Separatists blamed the attack on a guerrilla unit while Sergie Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said the attack was the result of Ukrainian shelling from beyond city limits and called it a “monstrous crime.”

Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany had issued a joint call for ceasefire on Wednesday to end the conflict, in which more than 4,800 people have died since last April.


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Write to Naina Bajekal at

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