Ukraine crisis: Rebels order UN agencies to leave Luhansk

Residents of Luhansk and Donetsk cross a Ukrainian government checkpoint. Photo: July 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption Some 150,000 people in rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine have not been receiving monthly food distributions, the UN warned

The UN humanitarian aid chief has expressed alarm after UN agencies were ordered out of rebel-held parts of the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine.

Stephen O'Brien said the agencies had been told to leave by Friday, and several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by Saturday.

Pro-Russian rebels seized parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions last year.

Kiev has announced a ban on Russian airlines, including Aeroflot, flying to Ukraine as part of sanctions.

Almost 8,000 people have been killed since fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, a month after Russia annexed the southern Crimea peninsula.

A ceasefire in eastern Ukraine has been holding in the past two weeks, although there have been reports of occasional shelling.

'Psychotropic medication'

In a statement, Mr O'Brien said the "de facto authorities" in Luhansk had ordered the UN agencies and NGOs to leave the area.

The BBC understands 10 UN agencies ordered to leave include the World Health Organisation, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and the UN children's charity, Unicef.

On Thursday the Luhansk rebels refused to register 10 out of 11 foreign NGOs because of "violations".

They accused one of the banned NGOs - Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) - of "illegally storing psychotropic medication". The NGO denies the allegation.

Dr Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations, denounced the decision to prevent operations in the region as "unacceptable given the significant medical and humanitarian needs of people affected by the ongoing conflict".

Image copyright BBbc

Mr O'Brien said all UN agency operations had also been suspended in the rebel-held parts of Donetsk.

He urged the separatists in "both Luhansk and Donetsk to ensure the immediate resumption of UN and international NGO activities", warning that restrictions had prevented delivery of some 16,000 tons of vital humanitarian supplies.

"Hospitals cannot perform surgery because they lack anaesthesia. Some 150,000 people are not receiving monthly food distributions," he said.

'No business'

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of arming the separatists with heavy weapons and sending regular troops to eastern Ukraine.

Moscow denies this, but admits that Russian "volunteers" fight alongside the rebels.

On Friday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russian airlines, including Aeroflot and Transaero, would be banned from flying to the country.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption PM Yatsenyuk said the ban would affect planes 'with the Russian tricolour'

In a statement (in Ukrainian), he said his government would also ban Russian flights carrying military goods from crossing Ukraine.

The measure, which is due to come into force on 25 October, came as part of restrictions on Russian companies on Ukraine's sanctions list over the conflict in the east.

"Russian planes with the Russian tricolour have no business in Ukrainian airports," PM Yatsenyuk said.

The EU and the US have imposed their own sanctions against dozens of Russian officials and top allies of President Vladimir Putin.