Ukrainian government forces battled separatists with artillery and automatic weapons on Wednesday in a second day of fighting in and around Slaviansk, forcing many residents to flee.

The Kiev government, trying to break rebellions by pro-Russia militias, said over 300 rebels had been killed in the past 24 hours in the “anti-terrorist operation” centered on the eastern town, a strategically located separatist stronghold.

Rebels denied this, saying losses among the Ukrainian forces during an offensive begun on Tuesday exceeded theirs.

At an army checkpoint on the edge of town, heavy artillery shelling could be heard while a plume of black smoke rose above the outskirts. Automatic gunfire rattled out from nearby fields.

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