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UNICEF: East Ukraine Fighting Leaves Thousands in Bitter Cold

Ukrainian servicemen give out free food to local residents in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 1, 2017. Freezing residents of the eastern Ukraine town battered by an upsurge in fighting between government troops pro pro-Russia rebels flocked to a humanitarian aid center Wednesday to receive food and warm up.

More than 17,000 people in a Ukrainian town are facing temperatures far below freezing with no heating or electricity after fighting destroyed power and water lines, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said on Wednesday.

Intense shelling around the town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine on Sunday halted power supply to heating systems as temperatures plummeted to minus 17 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit).

The situation could have catastrophic consequences for the residents of the town, including 2,500 children, UNICEF said.

Russian-backed separatist rebels and government forces have been trading blame for a flare-up in violence in the industrial east that has caused the highest casualty rate since mid-December and cut off power and water to thousands of civilians on both sides of the front line.

"Not only are the lives of thousands of children... on all sides of the conflict at risk, but to make matters worse, the lack of water and electricity means that homes are becoming dangerously cold and health conditions deteriorating as we speak," Giovanna Barberis, UNICEF representative in Ukraine said in a statement.

UNICEF called for safe access to carry out repairs to infrastructure to prevent further suffering.

Schools across the area, north of Donetsk, have also closed amid fighting.

The Ukrainian military and the separatists accuse each other of launching offensives in the government-held industrial town and firing heavy artillery in defiance of the two-year-old Minsk cease-fire deal.

Eight Ukrainian troops have been killed and 26 wounded since fighting intensified on Sunday - the heaviest losses for the military since mid-December, according to government figures.