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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN: Ukraine Fighting Deadliest in Months

by Lisa Schlein January 23, 2015

The U.N. Human Rights Office says the current fighting in eastern Ukraine is the deadliest since the government and Russian-backed rebels declared a cease-fire on September 5. The agency reports at least 262 people were killed between January 13-21- an average of 29 people a day.

The U.N. Human Rights Office reports more than 5,000 people have been killed since the conflict in eastern Ukraine began in mid-April. It says this figure is probably greatly underestimated and fears the true number of people killed is considerably higher.

In addition, it says nearly 11,000 people were wounded between mid-April and January 2015. It says the September 5 cease-fire, which was signed in Minsk, Belarus, has fallen apart, and that the significant escalation of fighting since mid-January is greatly increasing the threat to civilians caught in the crossfire.

The U.N. rights office says both the government and the rebels reportedly are using tanks and heavy artillery in the Donetsk region, particularly around the airport. U.N. Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville says there are also reports of shelling in several towns of the Luhansk region.

"OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] is concerned about the lack of implementation of the 12 provisions of the Minsk Protocol and the continuing presence of foreign fighters in the east, including reportedly servicemen from the Russian Federation, as well as the presence of heavy and sophisticated weaponry in populated areas under the control of armed groups,' he said. 'Civilians held or trapped in these areas are subject to a total lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law."

Colville says the OHCHR also is concerned about the impact on civilians of the recent decision by Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council to restrict the movement of people in and out of the areas controlled by armed groups.

"The introduction of such restrictions will likely have a very severe effect on the most vulnerable groups, such as older people, mothers with children and people with disabilities who may depend heavily on social benefits,' said Colville. 'We urge Ukrainian authorities to take immediate steps to redress this situation."

The U.N. refugee agency shares these concerns and is calling for unimpeded access in eastern Ukraine. It notes new Ukrainian government security clearance procedures are undermining the ability of humanitarian agencies to move around freely to help people in need.

UNHCR spokeswoman Karin de Gruijl says these government restrictions are worsening the plight of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people. She warns conditions are ripe for a major humanitarian crisis.

"These restrictions on movements within Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east of the country further complicate an already difficult situation for those people who are forcibly displaced and have been made worse by the recent intensified fighting…UNHCR itself has already experienced restrictions and obstructions on a number of occasions, hampering our efforts to deliver humanitarian aid," said de Gruijl.

The Ukrainian government says the number of internally displaced people currently ranges from 659,000 to 921,000. Russian authorities report some half a million Ukrainians have fled to their country. Among them, they say, are an estimated 245,500 Ukrainian citizens who have applied for asylum.

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