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Nine killed, 10 hospitalized in forest fires in eastern Ukraine

A Ukrainian serviceman works at the site of a forest fire in Lugansk region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released on October 1, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Nine people have been killed and 10 hospitalized as a series of forest fires swept through part of the eastern Ukrainian region of Lugansk, the emergency service says. 

The fires threatened 22 settlements and engulfed an area of about 9,300 hectares (36 square miles), the service said in a statement, adding that 120 people had been evacuated.

Local authorities said there were a total of 146 fires, 82 of which had been extinguished.

Local Ukrainian authorities have said the fires may have been caused by shelling from a nearby area that is controlled by pro-Russian forces, a crossing point to which was closed due to the fire.

The office of Ukraine's president called on law enforcement bodies to find the cause of the fires, saying: "The reasons for such a large-scale spread of fire must be clearly established."

"We also take into account the information about provocative shelling that could have been carried out from the temporarily occupied territory ... and could have caused at least some of these fires in such weather conditions," it said in a statement.

Last month, the Ukrainian military accused pro-Russian forces of violating a ceasefire with government forces. The simmering conflict between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia forces has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

Major combat ended with a truce agreed in the Belarus capital Minsk in 2015, but sporadic clashes claim fatality from both sides.

Earlier this year, one person died and nine were hospitalized in a similar forest fire that swept through the Lugansk region, destroying 80 dacha holiday cottages and 30 houses in two villages.

This spring, forest fires around the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant in the north of the country and elsewhere pushed pollution levels in Ukraine's capital Kiev to the worst in the world.

(Source: Reuters)

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