As Ukrainian troops close in on the pro-Russian separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, civilians in those enclaves are under siege, with hospitals running out of medicine, widespread power outages leaving the majority of residents without electricity, and daily shelling forcing people to flee for other parts of Ukraine or to Russia.
Local news reports suggest that almost 50,000 households in Luhansk have no electricity, 5,000 households are without water, and more than 4,000 households have no gas.
According to the Associated Press:
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.
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."
The Ukranian military, operating out of Kiev, has allegedly called on insurgents in Donetsk, Luhansk and another frontline city of Gorlivka — where water is being rationed — to agree to “humanitarian corridors” for several hours each day to allow civilians to escape, Agence France-Presse reports.
“Civilians can identify themselves with a white flag for groups of people and a wide white armband on the sleeve of each person,” the military said in a statement.
The Russian Foreign Ministry blames Ukrainian government forces for the civilian suffering: "The Kiev authorities instigated by their western sponsors are carrying out a punitive operation killing and wounding civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure," it said Monday. " A humanitarian situation in the region is getting worse."
But both sides remain focused on what Reuters on Monday referred to as a quest for "propaganda points" — bickering over the fate and motivations of the 311 Ukrainian soldiers who crossed into Russia Sunday night, and trading accusations of cross-border firing over the weekend.
The UN estimates that more than 1,200 civilians have died since fighting began in April.