Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday that preparations to evacuate the strategic town of Avdiivka, under fire from rebel and government forces, are underway.
The government-held town in eastern Ukraine, which borders land controlled by rebels, is without water or electricity and has been the center of renewed fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists. Seven soldiers and an undetermined number of opposition fighters were killed over the weekend as freezing temperatures came to the area.
Although an evacuation order has not been given, officials said 10 tons of food is on its way to Avdiivka, and they can remove up to 8,000 people per day. Neighboring communities are prepared to accept 9,000 people, they added. Estimates of Avdiivka's population range from 16,000 to 22,000.
The town is near the rebel-held city of Donetsk, as well as near important roads used by rebel forces. It is also the home of a coke and chemical plant, Europe's largest of its kind. If the separatists captured the facility it could jeopardize Ukraine's steel industry.
The two sides called a truce in late December. The renewal of hostilities coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump's telephone conversation Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the BBC reported. It added the Ukrainian government fears it could lose the support of the United States during Trump's presidency.