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600,000 risk losing water in war-scarred Ukraine
By Dmitry ZAKS
Kiev (AFP) Dec 2, 2016

International monitors warned on Friday that around 600,000 impoverished people could be left without water or heat in war-scarred eastern Ukraine this winter.

The words of caution came with few signs of an end to the 31-month-long conflict between Kiev and the pro-Russian separatists that has killed nearly 10,000 people in the EU's backyard.

Alexander Hug of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's special monitoring mission for Ukraine said the situation in the war zone in the east of the country was becoming dire as temperatures turned freezing in the ex-Soviet state.

"Urgent steps needed as 600,000 people in the Lugansk region (are) at risk of being left without water, electricity and heating," Hug tweeted.

Lugansk and its larger neighbour Donetsk were overrun by pro-Russian militias less than two months after Ukraine ousted its Moscow-backed president in a February 2014 pro-EU revolt.

Kiev accuses Moscow of plotting and backing the conflict in retaliation for Ukraine's decision to drop out of Russia's orbit and anchor its ties with the West.

But the geopolitics of a war that has also destabilised eastern Europe and played a role in the US presidential election has created a heavy toll for civilians who have survived the daily bombs and shells.

The rebel-run parts of Lugansk receive about a fifth of their water from Kiev-controlled portions of Ukraine and occasional humanitarian assistance from Russia.

But the two Ukrainian companies that had been supplying the water for free throughout most of the fighting have been forced to cut off supplies because they could no longer pay their own electricity bills.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced on October 5 that it would step in to pay Lugansk's debt to Ukraine on an emergency basis.

But the ICRC also called it "a stop-gap measure, not a sustainable solution".

The official news agency of the Lugansk insurgents said parts of the region had stopped receiving water from the Kiev-controlled part of the splintered country on Thursday.

Kiev has also threatened to cut off the region's electricity if the Lugansk rebel authorities do not cover outstanding bills in the coming days.

Such social disputes are supposed to be worked out at periodic talks the sides hold in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

But a Tuesday meeting between the foreign ministers of France and Germany -- the cosponsors of the Ukrainian peace process -- ended in yet another stalemate.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said during a visit to Poland on Friday that "we note an absence of any progress about a roadmap" for peace in the separatist east.

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