UN highlights humanitarian abuses in east Ukraine

Russian fighters and arms still flow to a conflict that has killed more than 9,000

The United Nations has warned of grave humanitarian problems and rights abuses in eastern Ukraine, and highlighted the continued flow of Russian weapons and fighters into a conflict that has now killed more than 9,000 people.

The UN also noted Ukraine's failure to prosecute those responsible for deadly violence during its 2013-2014 anti-government uprising and in Odessa in May 2014, and reported claims of growing repression in Crimea since its annexation by Russia.

“Civilians in the conflict-afflicted eastern parts of Ukraine end the year as they began it, in a very difficult humanitarian and human rights situation,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, whose office produced the report.

The report painted a bleak picture of how “the absence of the rule of law and legitimate authorities in territories controlled by armed groups, coupled with the continuing presence of foreign fighters and sophisticated weaponry, have left people in hardship, with no real protection and no access to redress and justice”.

A renewed ceasefire deal in August sharply reduced hostilities in eastern Ukraine for several months, but clashes have intensified again in recent weeks.

"There remains … an inflow of ammunition, weaponry and fighters from the Russian Federation into the territories controlled by the armed groups, leaving the situation highly flammable," the report said.

Gianni Magazzeni, a senior official at the UN human rights office, said "retired or former servicemen of the Russian Federation" were among those fighting for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. The United States and other western allies of Kiev support its claim that serving Russian troops have also fought in the region.

“There are increasing skirmishes taking place along the line of contact…an area where we have 800,000 people living,” Mr Magazzeni added. “That gives you a very clear sense of the implications of resumed fighting especially if it’s…the use of Howitzers and other very heavy weapons.”

He said a conservative estimate suggested that 18 months of fighting had killed at least 9,115 people and injured 20,797, including civilians, members of the Ukrainian armed forces and separatist fighters.

The report highlighted “serious human rights abuses” against people in separatist-held territory “including killings, torture, ill-treatment, illegal detention and forced labour, lack of freedom of movement, assembly and expression.”

It also documented “enforced disappearance, arbitrary and incommunicado detention as well as torture and ill treatment of people” suspected of joining or supporting separatist militia, and noted the “high degree of impunity” enjoyed by elements of Ukraine’s security services in such cases.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow are still glacial, though the Kremlin did order the resumption of Russian coal supplies to Ukraine on Wednesday after Kiev partially restored electricity flow to Crimea.

Russia is furious over Ukraine's reluctance to repay a $3 billion (€2.7 billion) loan due on December 20th, however. "I have a feeling they won't return it, because they're crooks," Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said.

“They refuse to return our money, and our western partners not only aren’t helping us, they’re hindering our efforts.”