DONETSK Ukraine (Reuters) - At the Kalinin morgue in Donetsk, where fighting has raged for two days between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, the bodies were piled so high it was difficult to tell their number.
The separatists say these were wounded men being transported back to the city in a Soviet-era truck when they were struck by fire from the ground and air.
The Ukraine government was not immediately available to comment on this claim.
A day after the landslide election win of new president Petro Poroshenko on Sunday, Ukraine began an unprecedented strike against the separatists, who have been left largely undisturbed since seizing government buildings in Donetsk and other parts of the east in March, while Russia amassed troops on Ukraine’s border.
More than 50 of the rebels have been killed in the operation.
As fighting continued on the outskirts of the city close to the airport, people stayed at home. Wide boulevards that are normally full of strolling families were empty, and few cars drove on the streets in the afternoon.
A group of residents who live next to the airport said they spent the night in a cellar amid sounds of fighting and managed to flee the area only on Tuesday morning, leaving their homes and valuables behind.
In the morgue, uncovered bodies showed clear signs of violent injury with heavy weaponry.
It was unclear why most of the corpses in the morgue were piled on top of each other in one room, or why several were laid out naked in a neighboring room, injuries exposed. There were three rooms in total, with enough space to have laid the bodies out singly and covered.
Meanwhile, on the road to the airport, was a “Kamaz” truck that the separatists use, punctured with dozens of bullet holes and grim signs of carnage in and around the wreckage.
Horrific images from such events have also appeared on social media networks, deterring many residents in this sprawling city of 1 million people from venturing out.
Schools did not close officially, but children either did not come or were sent home early. Shops were shuttered and restaurants locked.
In one school for 6 to 17-year-olds not far from the city morgue, armed separatists entered and demanded mattresses.
Pupils were told to go home and the separatists ultimately left empty-handed.
Later on Tuesday, rumors circulated that the authorities had given separatists an ultimatum to get out of the city by early afternoon, reflecting events of the previous day when fighting began within an hour of such an ultimatum.
Kiev-allied authorities in Donetsk denied any ultimatums had been issued, and though people stayed off the street, one Western businessman traveling from the city back to Kiev said there was no outflow of residents from the city by train.
“Everyone is hiding in their homes. We are hard-working people, we are not used to seeing such things, and the people are just afraid,” said Gleb, an engineer in his early forties.
Editing by Will Waterman