* Ukrainian army advancing in east Ukraine
* Pro-Russian separatists oppose rule by Kiev
By Natalia Zinets and Maria Tsvetkova
KIEV/DONETSK, Ukraine, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Nine civilians were killed in new fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists around the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk in east Ukraine, local officials said on Sunday.
Six people were killed in shelling and gunfire on the outskirts of Donetsk, deputy mayor Kostantyn Savinov said, and city officials said three were killed in shelling of Luhansk over the previous 24 hours.
A Reuters reporter in central Donetsk said the shelling echoed through the night and witnesses said several buildings caught fire in the outlying Petrovsky district, including a school. The smell of smoke stretched as far as the city centre.
Many residents of Luhansk, which is close to the border with Russia, have no electricity and some are without water, the city administration’s press office said.
Advances by the Ukrainian army have forced the rebels out of most of the towns they had occupied in Russian-speaking east Ukraine and squeezed them mainly into Luhansk, which had a population of about 400,000 before the conflict, and Donetsk, which had about 1 million residents.
The Ukrainian military said it had suffered no losses in the latest fighting.
Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, in which in the United Nations says more than 1,100 people have been killed, have stalled.
The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia, saying it has not used its influence with the separatists to end the fighting, but Moscow denies arming the rebels or orchestrating the conflict.
The fighting has intensified in east Ukraine since the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in rebel-held territory on July 17, killing 298 people.
Dutch and Australian forensic experts and police planned to continue recovery work at the site of the downed Malaysian airliner by examining debris in the village of Rozsypne, a few kilometres (miles) from the main wreckage.
The United States says the separatists probably shot down the Boeing 777 by mistake with a Russian-supplied missile. Moscow denies the accusation and blames the disaster on Kiev.
Roads to the crash site were for days too dangerous to use because of fighting, but the experts finally got there on Friday and hope to recover the last of the victims’ remains. The victims included 196 Dutch, 27 Australians and 43 Malaysians.
Shelling nearby forced the experts to stop their search for human remains on Saturday in one area where debris was found, but they were able to work unhindered at the main site.
Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Maria Tsvetkova, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Raissa Kasolowsky