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Published: Thursday August 21, 2014 MYT 7:35:07 PM
Updated: Thursday August 21, 2014 MYT 7:36:14 PM

Three refugees killed as they flee Ukrainian conflict - military

KIEV (Reuters) - Three refugees including a five-year-old child were killed near the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk when rebel gunfire hit their car, a Ukrainian military spokesman said on Thursday.

Around 500 people a day have been fleeing Luhansk, a pro-Russian separatist stronghold that has been battered by months of fighting between rebels and Ukrainian forces, but some have been caught in the crossfire while attempting to leave.

"The car was travelling with a large white flag, but that did not stop the fighters," spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing.

The deaths follow those of around 17 refugees, who were killed when rocket fire hit a convoy of buses leaving Luhansk on Monday. Both sides blamed each other for the attack.

Five Ukrainian servicemen were also killed overnight, Lysenko said.

Living conditions in many parts of eastern Ukraine have worsened dramatically - Luhansk has been largely cut off for weeks and is in its 19th day without water and regular supplies of electricity, which have hit mobile and landline phone connections.

The United Nations has put the death toll in the conflict at over 2,000, including civilians and combatants. That figure has nearly doubled since late July, when Ukrainian forces stepped up their offensive and the conflict spread to major urban areas.

A planned delivery of relief supplies aboard a Russian aid convoy has been stuck at the Russia-Ukraine border for nearly a week over Ukrainian concerns it could serve as a "Trojan horse" to infiltrate military supplies to pro-Russian separatists.

Ukraine is ready to start the process to allow the convoy to enter Ukrainian territory once it receives confirmation from the Red Cross that it is prepared to deliver the cargo to its destination, Lysenko said.

"The Red Cross must receive all guarantees for the safety of its personnel and the cargo," he said.

Lysenko also said a SU-24M military plane had been shot down by rebels on Wednesday, correcting an earlier statement which said a SU-25 ground attack plane had been hit. Both pilots ejected safely, he said.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Alison Williams)

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