At least 17 people died when a makeshift home for elderly people outside the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, caught fire in the early hours on 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 50km 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 on Sunday.

"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.

Eighteen people have been rescued and five of them are being treated in hospital [Serget Dolzhenko/EPA]

Eighteen people have been rescued and five of them have been admitted to hospital, said the service, adding that the blaze had been extinguished by Sunday morning.

The emergency services said in a statement that more than 150 people worked to rescue the residents and put out the fire, which began shortly before 4am local time.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze but according to one version it might have been sparked by an exploding TV set.

Inside Story - Ukraine's new reality: What's next?

National television channels, reporting from the scene, said that the street where the shelter was located was now cordoned off by the police.

Most vulnerable

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had been notified of the blaze, the government said in a statement, adding that Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman had told officials to create a special commission to look into the incident.

Groysman expressed condolences to the families of those who had died 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 arrested.

Source: Agencies