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UN Concern Rises as Fighting Intensifies in Eastern Ukraine

A damaged armed vehicle of pro-Russian rebels stands between the positions of pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian army in Shyrokyne village, eastern Ukraine, April 10, 2015.

Alarmed at the prospect of the second cease-fire agreement between the government of Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels falling apart, the UN Human Rights Office urged both parties to pull back their troops and abide by the terms of the so-called Minsk cease-fire accord that came into force in February.

The UN Human Rights Office said it is particularly worried that the dire human rights situation in areas of eastern Ukraine is likely to get even worse as a result of breaches in the cease-fire.

Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said civilians continue to suffer seriously as a result of this protracted conflict.

“The reports we are getting from the ground is that the humanitarian situation remains very difficult … People are unable to access basic necessities," she said. "It is still a very difficult humanitarian situation and as I mentioned, it is being protracted and being made all the more difficult with the renewal of fighting.”

Shamdasani cited reports of intensified fighting, especially in the vicinity of the Donetsk airport and near the village of Shyrokine in the Donetsk region. She said the armed groups reportedly are using heavy weapons extensively, including mortars, artillery and tanks in violation of the Minsk Agreement.

“In one day alone," she said, "on the 13th of April, the Ukrainian armed forces reported six servicemen killed and 12 wounded, while the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ claimed four of their fighters were killed and 17 wounded.

Shamdasani added that the United Nations fears a further escalation of hostilities.

"So far," she continued, "in 2015 alone, about 400 civilians have been killed as a result of indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and because of landmines and unexploded ordnance-both in government-controlled territories and in territories controlled by the armed groups.”

The United Nations reported at least 6,116 people have been killed and 15,474 wounded since the war in eastern Ukraine broke out in April last year. It said it believes the actual number of casualties is considerably higher, noting hundreds of people remain missing.

The Human Rights office also called for an independent and credible investigation into the recent killings in the capital Kyiv of a former parliamentarian and two journalists believed to hold pro-Russian views. It said those responsible for these crimes must be held accountable.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered an investigation into the murders.

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