Ukrainian government forces have retaken most of Donetsk airport from rebel separatist fighters, a government spokesperson said.

"Our forces managed to almost completely clear the territory of the airport," Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in Kiev, as reported by Bloomberg.

Lysenko added that retaking the strategically vital airport had been a "massive operation."

The airport has been the scene of fierce fighting between Ukrainian forces and those loyal to the Kremlin in recent days.

Rebel separatists launched an operation to seize control of the airport, with Ukrainian tanks deployed to retake it in retaliation.

Lysenko said that four Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 32 wounded in the past 24 hours, and that the operation did not violate the terms of a recent peace deal as rebels were cleared only from the Ukrainian side of the disengagement line.

An advisor to Ukraine's president who was located near the front line, Yuri Biryukov wrote on his Facebook page: "Ukrainian troops received the order and massively opened fire against known separatist positions."

Rebel forces claim that two civilians have been killed in the fighting.

More than 4,800 people have been killed during the nine month conflict, after rebels declared areas of east Ukraine independent 'republics' following the overthrow of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich.