Rebels 'destroying' key Ukraine battleground town: Pro-Kiev police

Pro-Russian rebels stationed in the eastern Ukrainian city of Gorlivka, Donetsk region, launching missiles from a Grad launch vehicle toward a position of the Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve, about 35km east of Gorlivka, on Feb 13, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Pro-Russian rebels stationed in the eastern Ukrainian city of Gorlivka, Donetsk region, launching missiles from a Grad launch vehicle toward a position of the Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve, about 35km east of Gorlivka, on Feb 13, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP 

KIEV (AFP) - Ferocious rebel bombardments Saturday were levelling the key government-held town of Debaltseve in east Ukraine, hours before a ceasefire was due to start, the local police boss said.

"The rebels are destroying the town of Debaltseve. There are non-stop artillery bombardments of residential areas and buildings. The town is in flames," pro-Kiev police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said on Facebook.

Abroskin said that Grad missiles had hit the town's police headquarters.

Debaltseve, a strategic railway hub between rebel strongholds Donetsk and Lugansk, has been the epicentre of fierce fighting in recent days and thousands of civilians have fled.

Rebels have been battling to encircle government forces in the town but Kiev denies claims that thousands of its troops have been surrounded.

The onslaught comes hours before a truce deal agreed by insurgents and Kiev following marathon talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France comes into force at 2200 GMT Saturday (6am Sunday Singapore time).

Ukraine and the US have accused Russia of pouring in weapons to fuel a frenzied rebel offensive to grab territory before the truce started.