Death toll in Ukraine soars in past 2 weeks

U.N. says 2,086 have died since April; rebel-held city is under siege

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DONETSK, Ukraine — A rebel-held city in east­ern Ukraine came un­der in­ten­si­fied shell­ing Wed­nes­day as the U.N. re­vealed that the death toll from the fight­ing be­tween gov­ern­ment troops and sep­a­rat­ists has nearly dou­bled in the last two weeks.

A spokes­woman for the U.N.’s hu­man rights of­fice, Cecile Pouilly, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s “very con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates” show the over­all death toll has risen to at least 2,086 peo­ple as of Aug. 10, up from 1,129 on July 26.

Ms. Pouilly said at least 4,953 oth­ers have been wounded in the fight­ing since mid-April.

While the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis reaches crit­i­cal stage in at least one ma­jor Ukrain­ian city, trucks ap­par­ently car­ry­ing some 2,000 tons of aid have lain idle at a mil­i­tary de­pot in Rus­sia. Mos­cow in­sists it co­or­di­nated the dis­patch of the goods, which range from baby food and canned meat to por­ta­ble gen­er­a­tors and sleep­ing bags, with the in­ter­na­tional Red Cross, but Ukraine says it’s wor­ried the mis­sion may be a cover for an in­va­sion.

A spokes­man for lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in the main rebel-con­trolled city of Donetsk told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Wed­nes­day that rocket at­tacks over the pre­vi­ous night had in­creased in in­ten­sity. Sev­eral high-rise apart­ment blocks in a south­west­ern dis­trict in the city showed the ef­fect of ar­til­lery strikes. In one, the fa­cade of one of the top floors was blown away to re­veal a shat­tered in­te­rior. Others bore smashed win­dows and gap­ing holes.

As­so­ci­ated Press re­port­ers saw two bod­ies ly­ing in a street Wed­nes­day morn­ing in Donetsk’s south­west­ern Pet­r­o­vsky dis­trict. The lo­cal gov­ern­ment said three were killed, a fig­ure that adds to the sharply mount­ing death toll.

Shell­ing in Donetsk has dam­aged power plants and gas pipe­lines, leav­ing large parts of the city with­out elec­tric­ity or gas, city coun­cil spokes­man Maxim Rovin­sky said.

Dam­age to res­i­den­tial build­ings is an ap­par­ent re­sult of two com­bined fac­tors: The army has re­frained from go­ing into Donetsk, fa­vor­ing an ar­til­lery cam­paign of at­tri­tion over close ur­ban com­bat. And lo­cal res­i­dents have reg­u­larly re­vealed that dam­aged houses are of­ten to be found near rebel fir­ing po­si­tions, sug­gest­ing that the rocket at­tacks are re­sponses to out­go­ing strikes.

Govern­ment troops and the vol­un­teers fight­ing with them are also sus­tain­ing heavy losses while mak­ing reg­u­lar ter­ri­to­rial ad­vances. At least 12 mi­li­tia­men fight­ing along­side the army were killed over­night Tues­day in an am­bush out­side Donetsk, a spokes­man for their rad­i­cal na­tion­al­ist move­ment said Wed­nes­day.

The sit­u­a­tion in Lu­hansk, also in rebel hands, is yet more se­ri­ous. City au­thor­i­ties said Wed­nes­day that they had en­tered the 11th straight day with­out power sup­plies. Run­ning wa­ter has dried up, and the few work­ing shops are sell­ing only ba­sic es­sen­tials. Rocket at­tacks re­main a daily oc­cur­rence.

The scale of the cri­sis there sparked Mos­cow into send­ing a huge con­voy of white trucks Tues­day car­ry­ing aid for the pop­u­la­tion in the Lu­hansk re­gion. Ukraine grudg­ingly agreed to the ini­tia­tive, while ex­press­ing se­vere mis­giv­ings over Rus­sia’s fail­ure to co­or­di­nate with the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross. An­dre Lo­ersch, a spokes­man for the ICRC mis­sion in Ukraine, said he was still in the dark Wed­nes­day about the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion of the con­voy.

Other than what ap­peared to be a few sup­ply runs, the roughly 262 ve­hi­cles in the con­voy lay idle at a mil­i­tary base in the south­ern city of Voronezh into Wed­nes­day eve­ning. Under a ten­ta­tive agree­ment, Ukraine and Rus­sia had said the aid would be de­liv­ered to a gov­ern­ment-con­trolled cross­ing in Ukraine’s Kharkiv re­gion, which hasn’t been touched by the months of fight­ing that have wracked neigh­bor­ing re­gions. The cargo would then have to be in­spected by the Red Cross.

But the ac­cord has soured into ac­ri­mony with the spokes­man for Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Petro Porosh­enko on Wed­nes­day ac­cus­ing Mos­cow of pos­si­bly plan­ning a “di­rect in­va­sion of Ukrain­ian ter­ri­tory un­der the guise of de­liv­er­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.” An­driy Ly­senko, a spokes­man for Ukraine’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fense Coun­cil, said he “had in­for­ma­tion” that the con­voy won’t go through Kharkiv, but that “no­body knows where it will go.”

That leaves the op­tion for the con­voy to go through a por­tion of the bor­der fur­ther south that is un­der the con­trol of the armed pro-Rus­sian sep­a­rat­ist reb­els that the gov­ern­ment has been bat­tling for the last four months. This sce­nario would all but cer­tainly not in­volve the Red Cross, and is viewed with pro­found hos­til­ity by the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment. Mr. Ly­senko said any de­liv­er­ies of aid “that don’t have the man­date of the Red Cross ... are taken as ag­gres­sive forces, and the re­sponse will be ade­quate to that.”

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s spokes­man, Dmitry Peskov, in­sisted that the aid con­voy was on the move in­side Rus­sia. He said the op­er­a­tion was pro­ceed­ing in full co­op­er­a­tion with the Red Cross.

Amid the ten­sions, Mr. Putin trav­eled to Crimea, a Black Sea pen­in­sula that Rus­sia seized from Ukraine in March, where he chaired a ses­sion of his Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. A meet­ing with Mr. Putin’s en­tire Cabi­net and most Rus­sian law­mak­ers has been sched­uled for to­day.

united nations - Russia - Eastern Europe - Europe - United Nations Security Council - Ukraine - Vladimir Putin - Moscow - Russia government - Red Cross and Red Crescent - Donetsk - Crimea - Petro Poroshenko - Kharkiv


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