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UN Says Fighting Fuels 'Dire' Situation In Eastern Ukraine As Winter Sets In

A woman walks past a store damaged by shelling in the separatist-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. (file photo)
A woman walks past a store damaged by shelling in the separatist-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. (file photo)

The United Nations says daily cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine have led to more civilian deaths and "further aggravated a dire human rights and humanitarian situation" as temperatures drop.

In a report published on December 12, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that increased fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists resulted in at least 15 deaths and 72 injuries among civilians from August 16 to November 15.

In total, at least 2,818 civilians have been killed, and up to 9,000 others injured since the start of the conflict in April 2014. The death toll includes the 298 passengers and crew aboard the jet making Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 by a missile system that a Dutch-led investigation found had been brought into separatist-held territory from Russia and returned to Russia afterwards.

The OCHCR recorded 10,303 conflict-related deaths between April 14, 2014 and November 15, 2017, the report said. In June, that figure was 10,090, including 2,777 civilians.

“The hostilities have never really stopped, affecting, in one way or another, the daily lives of millions in the conflict zone and in the country as whole,” Fiona Frazer, the head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, said in a statement accompanying the report.

Based on interviews with witnesses and victims of human rights violations, the report details 20 cases of killings, deprivation of liberty, enforced disappearances, torture, and conflict-related sexual violence committed on both sides of the contact line.

"This caseload and the lack of justice illustrate the prevailing atmosphere of impunity for grave violations in the conflict zone," the statement said.

The report cautioned about the situation of people who are detained incommunicado in the separatist-held areas in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

'Arbitrary Detentions'

It said that the monitoring mission continued to be denied access to detainees, raising serious concerns about detention conditions and possible further human rights abuses.

Investigations into torture allegations "are rarely opened and when so, have been ineffective," said the report, which also condemned "interference" with the judiciary in conflict-related cases.

In territory controlled by armed groups, the report said, "arbitrary detentions and 'prosecutions' were compounded by the lack of recourse to effective remedy."

It expressed serious concern about a "death penalty" pronouncement in November that it said was the second such statement by the separatists who control part of the Donetsk region.

After massive protests pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power in February 2014 following his decision to scrap a landmark deal with the European Union, Russia seized control of Ukraine's Crimea region and fomented separatism across eastern and southern Ukraine.

The Russia-backed separatists seized parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, igniting the war, which continues despite a Western-brokered agreement on a cease-fire and steps to end it.

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