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Evidence Grows of Russian Military Involvement in Ukraine

Pro-Russian rebels march during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade in Donetsk, Ukraine, May 5, 2015.

U.N. human rights monitors say there is growing evidence of Russian military involvement in the war in Ukraine. The U.N. human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine has just launched its 10th report on the situation in Ukraine, covering the period from February 16 to May 15.

Russia denies its soldiers are fighting in eastern Ukraine, and it says those fighting with pro-Russian rebels are volunteers. Since Ukrainian armed forces captured two Russians last month, the Kremlin has refused to acknowledge them as members of the regular Russian army.

But U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said monitors who interviewed the Russian soldiers in private on May 21 reached a different conclusion.

“There is increasing evidence that active servicemen from Russian Federation may be operating in Ukraine," said Simonovic. "In these cases, we have to be very cautious because the same persons who were visited are subject ... to national Ukrainian criminal investigation and they are charged with terrorism ... and, of course, those people are between a rock and hard place because also the Russian Federation is closely watching what they are saying or not saying.”

Heavy weapons, fighters

Simonovic said there also are reports of sophisticated heavy weaponry and fighters being supplied from the Russian Federation.

The report finds more than 6,400 people have been killed and nearly 16,000 wounded in eastern Ukraine between mid-April 2014 and May 30 of this year. It said this is a conservative estimate and the actual numbers are likely to be higher. It also says 1.2 million people are internally displaced and hundreds of thousands of others have sought refuge in Russia and other countries.

The report finds a notable decrease in indiscriminate shelling since the adoption of the Minsk peace agreements on February 12. It adds the shelling has not stopped, however, and civilians continue to live in fear.

The report documents serious human rights abuses. Simonovic told VOA there are allegations both sides may have committed war crimes, but documentation of such crimes is greater in areas held by the pro-Russian rebels.

“By armed groups, there is an allegation of killings, torture, ill-treatment, forced labor, looting, ransom, extortion of money. For both sides, we have some allegations — and in case of armed groups, some documentation — of summary executions. For the governmental side, we have allegations that we still investigate and work on,” said Simonovic.

The report says human rights violations have continued in Crimea since Russia annexed the peninsula on March 4, 2014. It notes that arrests, ill-treatment, torture, and intimidation are perpetrated against political opponents, primarily the Crimean Tatar community.