LONDON - Human rights group Amnesty International says dozens of people in eastern Ukraine have been abducted and tortured by armed pro-Russian separatist groups in recent months. Ukrainian government forces are also accused of abuses.
Several weeks after she was abducted and tortured, pro-Ukrainian activist Hannah still wears bandages to treat her wounds.
She was kidnapped from her Donetsk apartment by pro-Russian separatists and taken away blindfolded. Hannah describes what happened.
“My face was smashed,” she said. “They was trying to beat me everywhere, I was covering myself with my hands. Then they cut my hands and legs with a knife.”
Hannah describes how she was forced to write a separatist slogan on the wall in her own blood.
She says, “The man who was brutalizing me said ‘write with your blood on the wall: I love Donbas'. And he said you can't do this, if you run out of blood, I will shoot you.”
Hannah’s harrowing account is far from unique, according to Amnesty International. Researcher Denis Krivosheev has documented dozens of allegations of torture by separatist groups in eastern Ukraine.
“Mostly, it’s pro-Ukrainian activists - those who insisted that the east is part of Ukraine, who wanted to use Ukrainian flags, who wanted to use Ukrainian flags, shout Ukrainian symbols," Krivosheev said. "They were the ones targeted primarily. But also people who were involved with the presidential elections on 25th May, members of electoral committees, observers. Also, journalists.”
Amnesty says there is an increasing number of pro-Ukrainian activists escaping the east and arriving in the capital Kyiv.
Sasha says he was abducted after attending pro-Kyiv protests in Luhansk last month.
“They told me goodbye they were going to kill me," he said. "One guy with a gun put it to my head and said to go straight to the corridor and don't say anything. Whilst I was walking through the corridor, armed people who were there told me ‘goodbye, they are going to kill you now’.”
Amnesty says many of the alleged kidnap and torture victims are only now coming forward after being freed by Ukrainian forces.
In recent days the Ukrainian military has made territorial gains - forcing pro-Russian separatists from their strongholds in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. But both Ukrainian government troops and pro-Kyiv activists also stand accused of carrying out abductions and torture - though on a much smaller scale.
Ukraine’s government must end the culture of impunity, says Amnesty’s Denis Krivosheev.
“All over Ukraine, police have been a force whose members have been regularly abusing people’s rights with impunity," said Krivosheev. "And if Kyiv authorities are really intent on reinstating the rule of law and putting the house in order, this is where they need to start.”
Justice may have to wait while the conflict goes on. Pro-Russian separatists are reinforcing their positions in Donetsk and Luhansk. Analysts say any battle for control of those cities would likely cost many lives.