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UN: Residents of E. Ukraine Struggling to Survive

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - Local residents walk across a bridge damaged during fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed rebels in Stanytsia Luhanska, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Jan. 16, 2016.

FILE - Local residents walk across a bridge damaged during fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed rebels in Stanytsia Luhanska, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Jan. 16, 2016.

The United Nations reports more than 3 million people in rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine are struggling to survive and vulnerable to human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and disappearances.

A new report notes that the number of civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine has decreased over the past few months, but the U.N. Human Rights Office warns the cease-fire in the region is shaky, with repeated violations reported.

It finds ongoing indiscriminate shelling, the presence of anti-personnel mines and remnants of war continue to threaten civilians. Latest figures show more than 9,000 people have been killed and 21,000 injured since the conflict between Russian-backed rebels and the Ukrainian government began nearly two years ago.

U.N. investigators say full implementation of the so-called Minsk agreement is crucial to ending hostilities. The agreement calls for a cease-fire and pullout of heavy weapons from eastern Ukraine.

Porous Ukraine-Russia border a problem

Gianni Magazzeni is chief of the Americas, Europe, and Central Asia Branch of the U.N human rights office. He says monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, working on Russia's side of the border, document hundreds of cease-fire violations every day.

FILE - Russia-backed rebels are seen lined up in front of tanks near Novoazovsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 21, 2015. According to U.N. figures, more than 9,000 people have been killed and 21,000 injured in the conflict in eastern Ukraine since it began nearly two years ago.

FILE - Russia-backed rebels are seen lined up in front of tanks near Novoazovsk, eastern Ukraine, Oct. 21, 2015. According to U.N. figures, more than 9,000 people have been killed and 21,000 injured in the conflict in eastern Ukraine since it began nearly two years ago.

“On a daily basis there is still crossing of about 9,500 or more individuals across that border, which is not controlled by Ukraine... some of whom are also in military-style clothing,” he said.

Magazzeni says the restoration of full and effective control by Ukraine over parts of that border would be key to ending any possible inflow of ammunition, weaponry and fighters from the Russian Federation.

He also says there is no rule of law in eastern rebel-controlled areas, making people there particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses.

During the reporting period, between mid-November and mid-February, U.N. human rights monitors also documented alleged violations perpetrated with impunity by Ukrainian police and members of the Security Service. They include forced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment.

The report says Crimean Tatars in the Russia-annexed peninsula of Crimea continue to be oppressed and intimidated. It says Crimean Tatar demonstrators face prosecution, while others are being arrested for alleged membership in ‘terrorist’ organizations.

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