Firefighters work to extinguish a fire after shelling by pro-Russian militants on the outskirts of the small southern Ukrainian city of Novoazovsk
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire after shelling by pro-Russian militants on the outskirts of the small southern Ukrainian city of NovoazovskGetty Images

Pro-Russian rebel forces have taken over villages north of the coastal town of Novoazovsk in an attempt to open a second front in eastern Ukraine.

The port on the Sea of Azov was heavily shelled at least 10 times by separatists injuring four residents and plumes of black smoke could be seen rising above the town.

Andrei Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian national defence and security council (SNBO) told reporters that the town which borders Russia "is being shelled from both Russia and captured positions in Ukrainian territory" such as the city of Starobeshevo, where the local hospital was "ransacked" and the wounded "previously evacuated to Mariupol and Berdyansk".

Rebels captured a total of seven villages north of Novoazovsk, a town of 12,700 people,

Lysenko stressed that Novoazovsk remained under the control of Ukrainian forces. Rebel supporters shared pictures of tanks on social media. Pro-Russian forces have been trying for weeks to open a new front adding to strongholds in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russia rejects claims it is supporting rebels on the ground.

The developments came a day after Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko met for bilateral talks after a regional summit in Belarus capital Minsk. Poroshenko promised a "roadmap" for peace in the east. Putin said it had reached agreement with Ukraine to send Russian humanitarian aid deliveries to east Ukraine.

Novoazovsk lies near the port city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian security forces removed rebels in June.

A column of up to 100 Russian military vehicles, including tanks, armoured carriers, infantry vehicles and Grad rocket launchers are reported to have been spotted advancing towards Telmanovo along the road from Starobeshevo, according to the Intepreter.