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Daytime shelling leaves several dead in downtown Donetsk

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Glass and fallen branches crunched underfoot on a central street in east Ukraine's Donetsk as rebel fighters fidgeted with their guns and panicked residents ran in and out of doorways.

Nearby a body lay sprawled on the pavement -- one of at least two people killed when shelling on Thursday tore through a downtown avenue and elite housing complex in the besieged separatist stronghold.

The heavy daytime bombardment hit right in the heart of the industrial city, smashing into apartments and shattering shop fronts around.

A grey-rendered pre-war residential building on a central street had windows blown out and balconies damaged. There were impact holes on two sides

"I came and saw it. My house is nowhere any more," said Irina, whose family had lived there since before the wartime Nazi occupation of Ukraine.

"It's good my daughter and my granddaughter have gone away. Thank goodness, my neighbours are alive."

The fierce firing forced staff at the rebels' headquarters, a Soviet government office block occupied since April, to rush into its bomb shelter.

"It's because of the shelling," said a spokeswoman for the rebels.

Regional and city authorities, which are still operating to a degree despite the insurgents' presence, gave initial figures that two died and seven were injured in the shelling incidents.

- Counting themselves lucky? -

A gun-toting rebel in a bandanna and sunglasses, who declined to give his name, said the mortar fire cut down people in the street.

"A person was just walking along and died. There's a person lying in the yard too. There's a minimum of two dead," he said.

He blamed the Ukrainian troops surrounding the city for the attack.

"They want to scare peaceful people and make them go away," he said.

On a nearby street, windows were smashed in a library while a nearby shopping centre and office complex were also damaged.

Shelling also hit an elite housing complex on Kalinin Street, a short ride from the centre. It has spacious houses painted in different colours and a deserted air.

A shell had ripped open the third floor of a large apartment block to reveal the room inside. Windows were smashed on all five floors.

An adjacent row of large townhouses had smashed windows. On the opposite side of the road firefighters battled to douse flames ravaging a private home.

An elderly woman in a flowery housecoat living on the road, Nadezhda, said she counted herself lucky.

"My windows are smashed, I don't think that's too bad," she said.

"I saw nothing but I heard it. I was in the cellar and everything shook. When I came out, it was horrible."

A local resident, Marina, said she had come to check on the request of one of the house's owners.

She said that South American football stars Luiz Adriano and Douglas Costa from the local Shakhtar Donetsk team had lived in two of the townhouses in the complex. The team has long since left the conflict-torn city.

Marina said she was convinced that separatist rebels were behind the attack, believing them to be firing from a former mine nearby.

"It is terrorists shooting, not the Ukrainian army," she said. "They shoot at peaceful people."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140814/daytime-shelling-leaves-several-dead-downtown-donetsk