Feb 10, 10:47 AM EST

Three people in eastern Ukraine have been killed when a bus hit a land mine in no man's land between separatist rebels and government troops


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DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Three people were killed Wednesday morning in eastern Ukraine when a bus hit a land mine in a no man's land between separatist rebels and government troops.

The bus driver and a female passenger were killed instantly, while another passenger died of his wounds in the hospital after the minibus drove over the mine on the side of the road west of rebel-controlled Donetsk, the Ukrainian-controlled prosecutor's office for the Donetsk region said.

The conflict between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops has claimed more than 9,000 lives since it began in April 2014. Despite several cease-fire deals, the fighting has never fully stopped.

Witnesses said the bus was trying to cut the line of vehicles waiting to cross into government-controlled territory.

Both Ukrainian and rebel fighters often put up signs warning of land mines on the side of the road. There were no such signs Wednesday morning on that stretch of the road in the no man's land which had changed hands several times throughout the conflict.

International organizations have raised the alarm about the land mines laid by both sides of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

For more than a year, the Ukrainian government has been conducting de-facto border controls at checkpoints separating its positions from rebel-controlled areas. Travelers have to apply for a special permit and are subject to checks. As a result, hundreds of pedestrians and motorists have to wait in line to cross in and out near front-line positions that come under fire even during daytime.

Tatyana Bergman, who was waiting with her parents and toddler to pass into Ukraine-controlled territories, said crossing the contact line in eastern Ukraine is always a stressful experience.

"It's scary. We are afraid not only of getting on the side of the road, but even stepping away from asphalt," Bergman said.

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Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed to this report from Moscow.

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