KIEV: Seventeen people died when a makeshift home for elderly people outside the Ukrainian capital Kiev caught fire in the early hours of Sunday, the latest tragedy to shake the conflict-riven country.
The fire tore through the two-storey shelter for the elderly which is in the village of Litochky, located some 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Kiev.
“The bodies of 17 people have been found at the site of the fire,” the head of Ukraine’s state emergencies service, Mykola Chechotkin, said in comments released by his office.
“The fire broke out at a privately-owned house,” he told reporters, saying the shelter for the elderly had been set up in violation of existing legislation.
Citing preliminary information, the service said that 35 people were at the home when the fire broke out in the early hours of Sunday.
Eighteen people have been rescued and five of them have been hospitalised, said the service, adding that the fire had been extinguished by Sunday morning.
More than 150 people helped put out the fire.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze but according to one version it might have been sparked by an exploding TV set.
National television channels, reporting from the scene, said that the street where the shelter was located was now cordoned off by police.
Pictures released by the state emergencies service showed a fire-gutted white brick building, with rescue teams scouting its remains.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been notified of the blaze, the government said in a statement, adding that Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman had tasked officials with creating a special commission to look into the fire.
Groysman expressed condolences to the families of those who had perished in the “terrible tragedy,” the government said in a statement.
First deputy head of national police, Vadym Troyan, said in televised remarks that a man who had organised the temporary shelter had already been detained.
In post-Soviet countries like Ukraine and Russia outdated infrastructure is still in widespread use and managers often take a lax approach to fire safety.
Such fires often claim the lives of some of the most vulnerable people including the elderly and those with mental illness.
Scores of people also die in house fires each year.
Since April 2014, Ukraine has been struggling to contain a pro-Russian insurgency which erupted in the east of the ex-Soviet country after a popular uprising in Kiev ousted a Kremlin-backed president and Moscow annexed the peninsula of Crimea.
The conflict has claimed more than 9,300 lives, with the West and Kiev accusing Russia of fuelling the war and sending in regular troops across the border to prop up the separatists.
Moscow has repeatedly denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.