Nation & World

East Ukraine city dying under siege

DONETSK, Ukraine – Residents say the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk is dying. The power grid was completely down Monday, the city government said, and fuel is running dry.

Store shelves are emptying fast, and those who haven’t managed to flee must drink untreated tap water. With little medicine left, doctors are sending patients home.

As Ukrainian government forces slowly tighten their ring around the city – one of two major pro-Russian rebel strongholds – traveling in and out has become a perilous undertaking.

In an impassioned statement released over the weekend, Mayor Sergei Kravchenko described a situation that is becoming more unsustainable by the day.

“As a result of the blockade and ceaseless rocket attacks, the city is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe,” Kravchenko said. “Citizens are dying on the streets, in their courtyard and in their homes. Every new day brings only death and destruction.”

Luhansk, a city of more than 400,000 people at peacetime, now has seen its population dwindle as citizens flee violence and deprivation. Located about an hour’s drive from Russia, which Ukraine insists is supplying rebels with weapons and manpower, Luhansk is being fiercely fought over by all sides of the conflict.

Shelling is a daily occurrence and the targets apparently quite random. On Saturday, eight buildings were damaged by rockets. These included a school, a supermarket and several multistory apartment blocks, Luhansk city government said.

Last week, a crucial electrical transformer in Luhansk was hit by a shell, leading to an 80 percent drop in power supplies, according to a report issued Monday by an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitoring mission.

Rebels accuse the army of waging a vicious bombing campaign against the civilian population. Authorities deny they have used artillery against residential neighborhoods and in turn accuse rebels of shelling civilians as a way of discrediting the army. This claim is faithfully repeated by almost all Ukrainian media, although it has been questioned by Human Rights Watch and others.

With gas reserves all but exhausted, even those willing to brave a drive out of the city for supplies struggle to refill their cars.

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