" --IANS/EFE"
Kiev, Aug 5 (IANS/EFE) Almost half the residents of Lugansk in eastern Ukraine have fled the embattled city as fighting in the area rages between Ukrainian army forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Today, of the 464,000 inhabitant of Lugansk, only 250,000 are left in the city, Efe reported citing municipal spokesman Alexander Savenko as saying to the local media Tuesday.

Savenko said a humanitarian catastrophe threatened those left in the rebel-held city, which is under siege by Ukrainian government forces.

Savenko said Lugansk is witnessing power, water and communication cuts, which started three days ago, and that the situation is getting worse due to lack of food and fuel.

The Ukrainian military command Monday opened a humanitarian corridor to enable civilians to leave the cities under siege.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has centred over the past weeks in areas surrounding the rebels' main strongholds, in Lugansk and Donetsk, where government troops have been making gains and claim to have recovered 75 percent of the territory controlled by the separatists.

In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported Tuesday that some 730,000 Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring Russia since the fighting broke out last March.

Vincent Cochetel, chairman of the UNHCR's office for Europe, said some 117,000 people are reported to have relocated in shelters or with family and friends, a figure which he considered unrealistic because many men feared to register on the displaced list in fear of being recruited by the Army.

--IANS/EFE

pv/vt


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