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Ukraine Tries to Reinforce Embattled Airport

Volunteers from the Azov battalion get on a bus in Kyiv bound for the eastern part of Ukraine to join the fighting against pro-Russian separatists, Jan. 17, 2015.

Ukraine rushed fresh troops and supplies Saturday to the devastated remains of a key airport near the Russian border as explosions and heavy rebel gunfire shook the area and hopes for peace talks continued to fade.

Troops described the shelling by pro-Russian separatists at Donetsk airport as some of the worst of the nine-month rebellion, with the French news agency AFP reporting as many as six new fatalities.

In comments to Kyiv television, Ukraine military spokesman Andriy Lysenko described airport conditions as "difficult, indeed." But he said, "The situation remains under [government] control," and that government forces were being supplied with munitions, food and medicine.

This past week, rebels claimed to be on the verge of capturing the once-gleaming facility, which has become virtually unrecognizable after months of heavy fighting.

Meanwhile, a new round of peace talks that Kyiv had hoped might take place between Ukraine's government and Russian-backed rebels failed to materialize.

It had been reported that the new round was tentatively set for Friday in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Russia's Interfax news agency, however, said those talks did not occur when two separatist leaders failed to show up.

Russia's Rossiya 24 television blamed the government in Kyiv for the aborted talks, saying the planned meeting was "disrupted" by Ukrainian officials when Kyiv envoy Leonid Kuchma failed to show up.

A truce signed in September was touted as a breakthrough in the conflict, which erupted in April when rebels in the Russian-speaking east launched their rebellion against Ukrainian rule. The cease-fire, however, crumbled within hours.

European monitors say more than 1,300 of Ukraine's 4,700 fatalities have occurred since then.