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E. Ukraine Cease-fire Breach Traps Thousands of Civilians

The U.N. human rights office says it is very alarmed by reports thousands of civilians are trapped in the eastern Ukrainian city of Debaltseve. The agency says pitched battles between pro-Russian rebels and government forces continue despite the recently declared cease-fire.

The U.N. human rights office says it has not managed to get reliable information on the fighting or casualties in the Debaltseve area, but expresses alarm at reports of continued shelling and says it believes several thousand civilians are hiding in cellars.

Spokesman Rupert Colville said it is not clear how many civilians are hiding, but he said they are struggling to get food, water and other basic necessities.

Colville noted that in the days leading up to the cease-fire, hostilities intensified with numerous military and civilian casualties. He said casualties decreased dramatically during the first two days of the cease-fire, which began February 15.

“Although artillery and small arms exchanges did not cease completely, their impact on civilian populations did appear to decrease in most, if not almost all places," said Colville.

"So far, we have only been able to document a few casualties during those first two days, that is Sunday and Monday. Two civilians are reported killed in Popasna, which is in the Luhansk region on Sunday, and several civilians are reported wounded in Avdiivka in Donetsk region on Monday,” he said.

Colville said U.N. monitors are working to verify reports of civilian casualties. The U.N. human rights office reports 5,665 people have been killed and nearly 14,000 wounded in the past 10 months in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reports the health situation in the conflict zones is in crisis, with care facilities being hit and medicine in short supply.

WHO says at least 78 facilities have been shelled since the beginning of the crisis, including six hospitals in the last two weeks. It reports four people were killed and 19 wounded in the attack on the hospitals.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said providing quality health services is not possible because of insecurity, and a lack of medical and surgical supplies, vaccines, and emergency trauma care.

“We know that there is an increase of new tuberculosis cases in non-governmental-controlled areas and this is mainly with elderly people," said Jasarevic. "There is also a risk of HIV/AIDS transmission, especially mother to child because of the lack of the access to treatment. WHO is trying to help health providers on all sides.”

Jasarevic said WHO is running seven mobile emergency primary health care units and launching health care activities for internally displaced people in Ukraine.