Ukraine crisis: 'Refugees burned alive' as convoy hit by missile strike in eastern Ukraine

Government forces and rebels have both denied responsibility for the deaths
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Refugees travelling in a convoy in eastern Ukraine have reportedly been killed by a missile strike as they tried to escape fierce fighting between government forces and rebels.

There has been no independent confirmation of the attack, which the Ukrainian military said killed “many people”, including women and children on Monday.

The column of vehicles was reportedly travelling through the rebel stronghold of Luhansk, which has seen fierce fighting between separatists and government forces, when it was hit.

"The force of the blow on the convoy was so strong that people were burned alive in the vehicles - they weren't able to get themselves out," military spokesman Anatoly Proshin told Ukrainian news channel

Around 500 people a day have been fleeing Luhansk, which has been battered by months of fighting between rebels and Ukrainian forces and left almost entirely without water and electricity for more than two weeks.

A Ukrainian military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, claimed “militants” armed by Russia fired at a the convoy with mortars and Grad rockets.

“Many people have been killed, including women and children,” he said.

Volunteers taking an oath of allegiance to Ukraine, before being sent to the eastern part of Ukraine to join the ranks of special battalion "Azov" fighting against pro-Russian separatists

But pro-Russian rebels were quick to deny that they were behind the strike, saying they did not have the military capability for such an attack.

Andrei Purgin, deputy Prime Minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, said: “The Ukrainians themselves have bombed the road constantly with airplanes and Grads.

“It seems they've now killed more civilians like they've been doing for months now. We don't have the ability to send Grads into that territory.”

Spokespeople for the Ukrainian military said the attack happened near the areas of Khryashchuvatye and Novosvitlivka and the death toll had not been counted.

A rebel news outlet had previously reported heavy artillery fire between government forces and separatists near where the buses had been travelling.

Civilians have been suffering chronic food and water shortages and power cuts caused by sustained shelling by Ukrainian forces.

The UN’s human rights office said the number of people killed in the conflict has risen dramatically in recent weeks, with at least 2,086 people killed and 4,953 wounded by 13 August.

Video: Fighting continues in Ukraine

A Russian aid mission is expected to enter the country “in the near future” after inspections by Red Cross officials.

The charity is waiting for guarantees from separatists that the convoy will not be attacked or stopped as it passes into rebel territory.

Additional reporting by Reuters