A T-72B3 tank of the tank force of the Russian Southern Military District takes part in a military exercise at Kadamovsky Range. Erik Romanenko/TASS

Officials in the breakaway Ukrainian region of Donetsk have called on Moscow to send urgent help amid a worsening standoff across the contact line, with Kiev’s troops and those loyal to the two self-declared republic accusing each other of heavy shelling.

Speaking to the Solovyov Live YouTube channel on Monday, Eduard Basurin, the spokesman for the Donetsk People’s Militia said that Moscow should provide moral support “first of all,” but that “I would not refuse any – military assistance is also needed, in different forms.”

The official also claimed that there is a war taking place in Donbass, adding, “the situation isn’t just difficult, it is genuinely critical.”

Separatist forces and those loyal to the government in Kiev have warned of a sharp escalation in hostilities along the contact line in recent days, accusing each other of firing rockets, mortar shells and light arms across the divide.

Citing fresh fears of fighting, the rebel leaders of the so-called People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk announced on Friday that they had begun evacuating residents to Russia as a result of the deteriorating security situation, and ordered the mobilization of all able-bodied men to be ready to fight in a potential conflict.

On Monday, officials in Donetsk declared a state of emergency, saying that their pump stations had stopped working amid the shelling and that they were unable to distribute drinking water. “In connection with intensive artillery strikes … over the past few days, there have been a series of breaches of the normal operation of systems of life support,” officials stated. According to them, more than 21,000 residents had been left without water.