FILE - Lyubov Stasovskaya, 86, wipes tears in the backyard of her house in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 28, 2014.
FILE - Lyubov Stasovskaya, 86, wipes tears in the backyard of her house in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 28, 2014. Donetsk, which has lost about 400,000 of its 1 million pre-war population, is bracing to a winter ahead.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The United Nations is urgently appealing for $52 million to provide life-saving assistance to thousands of the most vulnerable people in eastern Ukraine to prepare for the harsh winter months ahead.

Winter temperatures in Ukraine can dip between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius below zero.  The U.N. reports the situation for thousands of people in the eastern break-away region of Ukraine is critical and will get worse as winter sets in in a couple of months.  

The U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, OCHA reports nearly 60 percent of the families living within five kilometers of the contact line are most vulnerable.  This patch of land divides Ukraine between the government and Russian-backed separatist controlled areas in the east.

OCHA spokesman, Jens Laerke said people living along the eastern side of this line have difficulty accessing essential services and humanitarian workers have difficulty providing for their needs.  He said people in eastern Ukraine are aware of the situation and are doing their best to prepare for winter.  

“One elderly woman told our staff in Ukraine recently that ‘summer is usually a time when one should enjoy time outside, but for me, it is a time when I must start saving from my meager pension, cutting my health and food expenses to be able to save up for coal for the winter.’  That is the situation for millions of people," he said. 

FILE - A member of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic forces walks near a building, destroyed during battles with the Ukrainian armed forces, at Donetsk airport, Jan. 12, 2016.

War in eastern Ukraine broke out in April, 2014.  The U.N. reports more than 13,000 people have been killed, including one quarter civilians and more than 30,000 wounded.  Though active fighting has diminished, the simmering conflict continues to disrupt daily life for millions.

Laerke said families along the contact line cannot access healthcare.  He said part of funding from the appeal will provide 80,000 people access to health care through a mobile medical team or will pay transport costs for them to access other facilities.

He said money will be used to repair houses damaged by the conflict, to winterize shelters so they can withstand the winter cold, to provide cash for people so they can buy coal for heating and pay for food so people can stock up before prices increase as winter approaches.  

Laerke said $16 million also is needed to protect people from mines and other explosives along the contact line.  He said about two million people live in these high-risk weapons contaminated areas.  The U.N. reports Ukraine is the third most mine-affected country in the world after Afghanistan and Syria.