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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– The NATO military alliance has come under pressure to increase security as hundreds of thousands of people flee battles between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine.
British Prime Minister David Cameron urged fellow leaders of NATO to back measures to defend frontline states against a possible Russian attack, including adding supplies and equipment to those countries.
His proposal came after the European Union and United States imposed sanctions on Russia for allegedly supporting the rebels and its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Moscow has already reacted to the sanctions by banning most fruit and vegetable imports from Poland and warned it may extend the restrictions to the rest of the EU. Yet while politicians speak, the impact of war is felt by fleeing residents, including fathers.
HUMAN TOLL GROWING
Ongoing artillery fire is taking its toll. Local officials say dozens of people have died. Many residents now try to flee eastern Ukraine where Ukraine’s army has begun a major offensive against heavily armed pro-Russian separatists.
The United Nations refugee agency says 230,000 people have already fled fighting in the region. Most of them have crossed the border into Russia.
Among them many women and children. But fathers are suffering too. Sergei tries to bring his wife Maria and their two young children to safety.
A few bags with personal belongings is all they have. “We were living in constant fear. Imagine, bombs are falling and your windows shatter. And there are small children with you. How can you live like this?” he said, his voice trembling with emotion.
FATE SOLDIERS UNKNOWN
They fled the town of Shakhtarsk, in the Donetsk region, where officials said Friday at least 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed when their convoy was ambushed by pro-Russian rebels. More than a dozen were unaccounted for.
Luhansk, the smaller of two main rebel strongholds, has been cut off from food supplies and left with almost no electricity or running water, says another desperate father.
“There is no water, no gas, no mobile phone reception, no groceries and only about ten litres of fuel at each petrol station. We need to get our children out, you know,” he added.
His city is almost completely surrounded by government forces.
WAR CRIMES ALLEGATIONS
The refugee crisis comes amid allegations of war crimes. A senior advisor of rebels, Igor Druz, has admitted that extrajudicial killings were carried out to in his words “prevent chaos”.
At the same time rebels have accused Ukraine’s army of shelling civilian neighborhoods, killing dozens since Tuesday in the cities of Luhansk and Horlivka, including children.
Ukraine’s government says it has banned the use of heavy weapons in heavily populated areas.
Kyiv accuses the pro-Russian separatists of using children and other residents as human shields to discredit the army.
Nearby, international investigators continue to search for human remains of those who died when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17 was shot down on July 17, allegedly by pro-Russian rebels.
Nearly 300 people died in that disaster.