Ukraine officials blamed pro-Russian separatists in the country’s restive east for the killings of four civilians Saturday by artillery fire in a government-controlled area near the Russian border.

The shelling in the Donetsk region occurred just hours before the finals of the wildly popular Eurovision song contest, held this year in Kyiv.  

The deaths prompted Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to announce that he and his wife would protest the killings by not appearing at the event, which is followed passionately by tens of millions of Europeans and viewed around the globe each year by millions more.

The head of the Kyiv-controlled Donetsk Regional Administration said the shelling — the most serious truce violation in nearly two months — targeted the government-held industrial town of Avdiyivka, just north of the separatist-controlled hub city of Donetsk.

The official, writing on Facebook, said at least one shell struck a courtyard of a private house, “where three women and one man perished.”

There was no immediate separatist comment on the shelling or the deaths.

Fighting erupted three years ago between pro-Russian separatists and government forces near the Russian border, with Russian-speaking separatists demanding an autonomous region free of Ukrainian controls.

An estimated 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, most of them between 2014 and 2016. However, sporadic shelling continues in contested areas of the east, particularly near Donetsk and another nearby separatist hub, Luhansk.

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