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World Food Program Launches Ukraine Operation

Ukrainian refugees from the Donetsk region receive food as humanitarian aid on the outskirts of the southern coastal town of Mariupol, Sept. 10, 2014.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has begun a food assistance program in eastern Ukraine.

The WFP's first program in Ukraine is distributing food in transportation centers and public shelters in Donetsk and Luhansk.

The program, launched earlier this month, has already handed out 10,000 daily rations, enough to feed 2,000 people for five days. The agency plans to scale up its operations by the end of the month to feed more than 18,000 people for five days.

The recipients of the distribution program are mainly people with serious medical conditions, pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly and large, vulnerable families.

By mid-October, WFP plans to initiate a half-million-dollar voucher program that would allow up to 10,000 people to buy food that is available in their communities.

The WFP program in Ukraine follows a request for help from Kyiv.

The U.N. refugee agency has counted 310,000 internally displaced people in Ukraine, but officials say the actual total may be double that.

Fighting between the Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has been raging since mid-April, claiming more than 2,600 lives.