Ukraine Death Toll Spikes as Attacks Intensify

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -

A rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine came under intensified shelling Wednesday as the U.N. revealed that the death toll from the fighting between government troops and separatists has nearly doubled in the last two weeks.

A spokeswoman for the U.N.’s human rights office said “very conservative estimates” show the overall death toll has risen to at least 2,086 people as of Aug. 10, up from 1,129 on July 26.

Pouilly said at least 4,953 others have been wounded since mid-April.

While the humanitarian crisis reached critical stage in at least one major Ukrainian city, trucks apparently carrying some 2,000 tons of aid have lain idle at a military depot in Russia. Moscow insists it coordinated the dispatch of the goods with the international Red Cross, but Ukraine says it’s worried the mission may be a cover for an invasion.

A spokesman for local authorities in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk told the AP Wednesday that rocket attacks over the previous night had increased in intensity.

Several high-rise apartment buildings showed the effect of artillery strikes. In one, the facade of one of the top floors was blown away to reveal a shattered interior. Others bore smashed windows and gaping holes.

Shelling in Donetsk has damaged power plants and gas pipelines, leaving large parts of the city without electricity or gas, city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky said.

Damage to residential buildings is an apparent result of two combined factors: The army has refrained from going into Donetsk, and local residents have revealed that damaged houses are often to be found near rebel firing positions, suggesting that the attacks are responses to outgoing strikes.

Government troops and the volunteers fighting with them are sustaining heavy losses while making territorial advances.

The situation in Luhansk, also in rebel hands, is more serious. City authorities said Wednesday they had entered the 11th straight day without power. Running water has dried up and the few working shops are selling only basic essentials.

The scale of the crisis sparked Moscow into sending a huge convoy of trucks Tuesday carrying aid for the population in the Luhansk region. Ukraine grudgingly agreed to the initiative, while expressing severe misgivings over failure by Russia to coordinate with the ICRC.

Other than what appeared to be a few supply runs, the 262 vehicles in the convoy lay idle at a military base in the city of Voronezh.

Under a tentative agreement, Ukraine and Russia had said the aid would be delivered to a government-controlled crossing in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region. The cargo would then have to be inspected by the Red Cross.

But the spokesman for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday accused Moscow of possibly planning a “direct invasion of Ukrainian territory under the guise of delivering humanitarian aid.”

Amid the tensions, Putin traveled to Crimea, where he chaired a session of his Security Council. A meeting with Putin’s Cabinet and most Russian lawmakers has been scheduled for Thursday.