SLAVYANSK , Ukraine, June 13 (UPI) -- Tens of thousands of eastern Ukraine residents have fled fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatists, prompting a growing humanitarian crisis.
Near-daily artillery shelling in the city of Sloviansk -- a city of 120,000 regarded as a rebel stronghold -- has caused civilian casualties and an exodus from the city. About 15,000 to 20,000 refugees have traveled to the nearby city of Svyatogorsk, where churches and residents have offered housing, Svyatogorsk Mayor Alexander Dzyuba said. Local businesses have donated food.
The Ukrainian health ministry reported 251 hotels, summer camps and similar sites across Ukraine have been converted into temporary refugee stations. The servants' quarters of former President Viktor Yanukovych is presently serving that purpose as well. Buses, organized by Sloviansk's local Communist Party, have been moving refugees from the city since June 3.
Missing from the picture in Sloviansk and Svyatogorsk is any sort of government assistance. Although Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promised a "humanitarian corridor" in the eastern part of the country, nothing has yet emerged.
Russia claims about 70,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed the Russian border since fighting began in May, although that figure is regarded as exaggerated. Thursday Lamberto Zannier, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, visited refugees in the Rostov region Thursday, and recommended that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees get involved in helping those people who have fled.