KIEV: Pro-Russian separatists are leaving their positions on the outskirts of Donetsk and retreating toward the center of the eastern Ukrainian city, Ukrainian military officials said Wednesday.
Residents said the rebels, who rose up in April demanding independence from Kiev in the mainly Russian-speaking east, had dug trenches in downtown Donetsk outside the main university, where they have been living in student dormitories.
Ukrainian government forces have pushed the armed rebels back to their two main strongholds, in Donetsk and nearby Luhansk, taking back control of villages and suburbs around them.
Heavy fighting raged in the Luhansk region for a second day Wednesday, said officials in Kiev and the rebels.
"In Donetsk, rebels abandoned their positions en masse and went towards the central part of the city," the headquarters of what Kiev calls its "anti-terrorist operation" said in a statement.
"It cannot be ruled out that the appearance of such movements could suggest the spread of panic and attempts to leave the place of warfare."
Residents said they had heard shelling during the night and a shell struck a chemical plant in the city, causing a fire.
Local health officials said 432 people had been killed and 1,015 wounded since hostilities started in the Donetsk region following the removal of a president in Kiev who was sympathetic to Moscow and Russia's annexation of the Crimea region.