Death toll in Ukraine conflict exceeds 5,000, may be 'considerably higher' – UN

A resident of the Artema suburb of Sloviansk, Ukraine, in the rubble of what used to be her summer kitchen, in July 2014. Photo: UNHCR/Iva Zimova

23 January 2015 – More than 5,000 people have now been killed since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine in mid-April last year, the United Nations human rights office said today as it expressed fear that the real figure may be 'considerably higher.'

Escalation of hostilities since 13 January has raised the total death toll in the country to at least 5,086 and some 10,948 people have been wounded between mid-April last year and 21 January 2015, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“In just nine days, between 13 and 21 January, at least 262 people were killed due to the hostilities. That is an average of at least 29 people killed per day. This has been the most deadly period since the declaration of a ceasefire on 5 September,” OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville said at a press conference in Geneva.

In addition to the intense fighting and shelling in the embattled Donetsk region, shelling has also been reported in several towns of Luhansk region.

The killing of civilians when an artillery shell hit a bus stopping for passengers in the Leninskyi district of Donetsk yesterday was the second bus attack, with significant casualties, in the last 10 days. This has brought into 'stark focus' the impact of the ongoing hostilities on civilians.

“We are concerned about the lack of implementation of the 12 provisions of the Minsk Protocol and the continuing presence of foreign fighters in the east, allegedly including servicemen from the Russian Federation, as well as the presence of heavy and sophisticated weaponry in populated areas under the control of armed groups,” Mr. Colville said.

“Civilians held or trapped in these areas are subject to a total lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law,” he added, reminding all parties to the conflict that international humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians and that the principles of military necessity, distinction, proportionality and precaution must be strictly respected.

Mr. Colville also expressed concern over the impact on civilians of the recent decision by the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine to restrict movement in and out of the areas controlled by armed groups. As of 21 January, people travelling to and from these areas need to obtain special passes and provide documents to justify the need to travel.

“These limitations are worrying, especially in light of the escalating hostilities. It adds to concerns created by the Government decision in November 2014 to discontinue providing State services in the territories controlled by armed groups,” he said.

The restrictions are likely have a 'severe effect' on the most vulnerable groups, such as older people, mothers with children and people with disabilities who depend heavily on social benefits.

“We urge Ukrainian authorities to take immediate steps to redress this situation,” Mr. Colville said.

In late February 2014, the situation in Ukraine transcended what was initially seen as an internal Ukrainian political crisis into violent clashes in parts of the country, later reaching full- scale conflict in the east. A cease-fire and peace plan for eastern Ukraine was signed in the Belarussian capital of Minsk on 5 September, but remains fragile. The situation has since continuously deteriorated, with serious consequences for the country’s unity, territorial integrity and stability.


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