Ukraine rebel city on verge of 'humanitarian catastrophe'

KIEV - The insurgent stronghold of Lugansk in eastern Ukraine is on the verge a humanitarian catastrophe, the mayor warned Saturday, as a siege by government troops has seen water, electricity and food supplies cut off.

The hub of some 420,000 people, the second largest rebel-controlled city after Donetsk, has seen almost daily shelling claim the lives of scores of civilians as Ukraine's military tightens its grip on pro-Russian fighters hunkering down there.

"What is happening in Lugansk today... is a real war that has already taken the lives of over 100 peaceful citizens," the office of mayor Sergiy Kravchenko said in a statement.

"After several months due to the blockade and incessant firing the city now finds itself on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe." Seized by rebels in April at the start of a brutal conflict that has now claimed over 1,150 lives, the city close to the Russian border has now seen its water and electricity cut off and Internet and telephone connection severed, the city administration said.

Fuel supplies, including those for the overstretched emergency services, are exhausted and food is running short as most shops except for a few bakeries and butchers have closed as deliveries have been halted.

Pensions have not been paid over the past month and people are struggling to receive their salaries while cash machines have run dry.

Journalists have struggled to enter the city as the worsening fighting has turned once-pleasant tree-lined boulevards into deserted no-mans land, while tens of thousands of residents are thought to have fled.