UN says 8,000 killed in Ukraine since start of conflict

Report released by UN says 8,000 people including civilians killed in over year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Members of the so-called "Pyatnashka" battalion, a unit of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, train at a range in Donetsk, Ukraine, August, 19, 2015.

"Since the conflict began in eastern Ukraine in mid-April 2014, a total of at least 7,962 people ... have been killed," a report released by the UN Human Right office said on Tuesday.

The dead includes Ukrainian soldiers, pro-Russian separatist rebels and civilians who have been caught up in the fighting, with civilian casualties showing an increase in the past three months.

At least 17,811 people have also been injured in the clashes, according to the report.

"More needs to be done to protect civilians and put a complete stop to the hostilities, in accordance with the February ceasefire," UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said, referring to the Minsk 2 ceasefire agreement that was signed in the Belarusian capital earlier this year.

Between the months of June and August, 105 civilians were killed and 308 were injured, the UN Human Rights chief added, compared to just 60 civilian deaths in the three months prior to that period.

Fighting broke out in Ukraine’s eastern provinces after the country’s former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled anti-government protests in Kiev in February 2014.

Protesters had been clashing with police in Kiev’s Euromaidan Square for three months, concerned with Yanukovych pivoting the country towards Russia after rejecting financial help from the EU.

A man takes photos of a residential house, which, according to locals, was damaged by recent shelling, in the town of Sartan near Mariupol, Ukraine August 17, 2015.

The fall of Yanukovych paved the way for a new, pro-EU government to take charge in Kiev, but resent in ethnically Russian regions of Ukraine led to further political chaos.

Within a matter of weeks, the predominantly ethnic Russian authorities in the autonomous Crimean peninsula declared independence from Kiev before holding a referendum in which the vast majority of Crimeans voted in favour of Russian annexation.

The international community condemned the referendum as illegitimate, especially as it took place after the peninsula came under the occupation of armed militants in unmarked uniforms. The militants, dubbed “little green men,” were believed to be Russian soldiers, but Russia rejected the accusations.

Encouraged by the annexation of Crimea, pro-Russian separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine also declared independent republics in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Although the Minsk 2 ceasefire sought to end the violence, sporadic clashes have been intensifying particularly around the strategically located coastal city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

Control of the road to Mariupol would not only grant the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk access to the sea, but would allow the rebels to form a land bridge linking them to the Crimean peninsula.

Both the rebels and the Kiev forces have been accused of violating the ceasefire. While the report claims foreign fighters, weapons and ammunition from Russia is fueling the conflict, it also slammed the Ukrainian government for the “arbitrary and incommunicado detention” of rebels who face torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities.

TRTWorld and agencies