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Ukraine conflict with Russian-backed rebels gets deadlier

MOSCOW - A spokesman for Ukraine's military operation against separatist rebels in the country's east says six soldiers have been killed over the past day.

The statement by Oleksander Motuzyanik on Sunday comes amid increasing concern about a recent escalation in fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels. On Tuesday, Ukraine reported seven of its soldiers had been killed.

The Donetsk People's Republic, one of two self-proclaimed separatist republics in the east, claimed Sunday that Ukrainian forces had shelled positions there more than 600 times in the past day, the Russian news agency Tass reported.

The United Nations says more than 9,400 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in April 2014.

Prominent journalist Pavel Sheremet, who died when his car was bombed in Ukraine, was buried Sunday in his hometown of Minsk, Belarus.

Sheremet, who once was imprisoned in Belarus, where independent media are under consistent pressure from the authoritarian government, had moved to Ukraine two years ago after several years in Russia, seeing Ukraine as having a more free media environment.

He worked for the news website Ukrainska Pravda, which is noted for investigative work, and remained editor of a news website in Belarus.

A car he was driving was blown up Wednesday in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. No arrests have been made.

Attending the funeral was Mustafa Nayyem, a Ukrainian parliament member and journalist whose call for rallies in late 2013 set off the massive protests that led to Ukraine's pro-Moscow president fleeing the country in February 2014.

The blast that killed Sheremet "was directed against the country that we want to build - open, free, trustworthy and smiling," Nayyem said.

A Ukrainian pilot who spent two years in a Russian prison created a controversy recently by saying that reconciliation is the only solution to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking on Ukraine's Channel 5, Nadiya Savchenko said late Thursday Ukrainians "need to ask for forgiveness" or there will never be peace in eastern Ukraine.

Top Ukrainian political figures lashed out Friday at Savchenko over the remarks. Savchenko returned to Ukraine to a hero's welcome in May as part of a prisoner swap after she was captured by the rebels in June 2014 and put on trial in Russia for involvement in the deaths of two journalists.

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