The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva estimates that 230,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in Ukraine, with a small majority of them fleeing into Russia, rather than relocating within the country.
On Friday, UNHCR spokesman Dan McNorton said that almost 100,000 people had fled Ukraine's conflict zones for other regions within the country, and about 130,000 had crossed the eastern border into Russia.
"They are mainly from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions," McNorton said, referring to the two regions under separatist control. "Those are figures that have risen in recent weeks."
McNorton said the numbers came from research on July 18, the most current data available. Ukraine's military and pro-Russia separatists have been engaged in fighting for several months; both sides have been accused of failing to keep civilians out of the firing line.
"There are a variety of security concerns and a variety of reasons for people making the decision to leave their homes," McNorton said, citing fears of getting caught in the crossfire as a popular concern.
UNHCR data released in late June put the total number at 164,000 - 110,000 in Russia and 54,000 displaced within Ukraine. The already-tense situation in eastern Ukraine was exacerbated in recent days following the MH17 airliner crash, in an apparent shooting down.
EU diplomats talking sanctions
European Union ambassadors met for a second day of talks in Brussels on Friday, charged with laying the groundwork for possible sanctions against Russia. Diplomats told several sources on condition of anonymity that the measures could have an impact on Russia's access to capital markets, its defense sector, and its imports of dual-use goods and sensitive technologies. "Dual-use goods" is a coverall term for products normally used for civilian purposes which also have the potential for military application.
On Friday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that Russia could still avert EU sanctions if it stopped arming separatists in Ukraine.
"All indications are that Russia is continuing to arm the separatists," Rutte told a parliamentary committee. "There's an easy way out for Russia: to distance themselves from the separatists, and stop arming them.
Of the 298 people to die in the MH17 crash, 193 were from the Netherlands. Russia disputes allegations that it is supplying the separatists with weaponry. Claims that rebels shot down the Boeing 777 while it was traveling at altitude, requiring sophisticated weaponry, have prompted renewed allegations of Russia's involvement.
msh/mkg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)