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UN: Millions in E. Ukraine Struggle to Survive

Pensioners stand in a queue to get a financial aid at one of the government offices of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Dec. 12, 2014.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights warns more than five million people caught in conflict-affected regions of eastern Ukraine are struggling to survive as the winter cold sets in.

A new High Commissioner report says Ukrainian citizens are facing mounting hardships in separatist-controlled areas because of the violence and breakdown in law and order.

U.N. human rights monitors find the situation for millions of people in eastern Ukraine has worsened since the government and separatists agreed on a cease-fire September 5. The report says 1,357 people have been killed since then, just under one-third of the more than 4,700 total deaths since the conflict began in April.

It says an average of 13 people a day are being killed in the conflict, and more than 10,322 people have been wounded.

The chief of the America, Europe, and Central Asia Branch of the U.N. Human Rights Office, Gianni Magazzeni, attributes the escalating deaths and growing human rights abuses to a breakdown of law and order in the areas pro-Russia rebels control.

“The report points to the very close link between the impact of the presence of foreign fighters and heavy and sophisticated weaponry in the east and the human rights situation with continuing killings, abductions, torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, rape, forced labor, ransom, extortion that is going on in the areas of the east that are under the control of armed groups," says Magazzeni.

Brunt felt by most vulnerable

The report details how the damaged infrastructure, failing economy, and disrupted social and medical services harm the most vulnerable, particularly the elderly, children, and individuals in state institutional care.

Following elections the pro-Russian separatists held last month, the Ukrainian government in Kyiv cut off pensions and stopped funding schools and hospitals in rebel controlled areas.

Only people who leave those areas and register as migrants in Ukrainian cities outside the conflict zone are eligible for benefits.

Magazzeni tells VOA many people will not be able to meet a December 31 migrant registration deadline.

"There are areas that are controlled effectively by armed groups. But, of course, the implication of this decision, especially for those people who may not be either willing or in a position to relocate simply because they are kept there and cannot leave those areas. It is a matter of concern indeed…. Some of these people are kept almost as hostages… they cannot leave and… they are also forced into doing things that they may not want to do," says Magazzeni.

The report says more than one million people have left eastern Ukraine. It says the numbers are almost evenly split between those who are displaced within Ukraine and those who have fled to Russia. Among the internally displaced are nearly 20,000 people from Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula Russia annexed in March.

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