A human rights investigation team sent into eastern Ukraine by Amnesty International found "graphic and compelling evidence of savage beatings and other torture," primarily at the hands of pro-Russia separatists, the London-based rights organization reported Friday.
In the report documenting the brutal experiences of a handful of victims since the unrest began last winter, Amnesty called on both sides in the conflict to "stop this abhorrent ongoing practice" designed to induce fear among the civilian population.
"The bulk of the abductions are being perpetrated by armed separatists, with the victims often subjected to stomach-turning beatings and torture," Denis Krivosheev, the group's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said of the finding of the 20-page report published on its website.
"There is also evidence of a smaller number of abuses by pro-Kiev forces," he said, referring to forces linked to the central government in Kiev, the capital.
Ukraine's Interior Ministry has reported nearly 500 cases of abduction since April, and the United Nations special human rights monitoring mission in the country has recorded 222 cases in the last three months, Krivosheev said.
A statement issued by Amnesty accused the militants of targeting journalists, political activists and international observers to create an information vacuum in the conflict area.
The report cited the case of a young activist named Hanna who was abducted by separatist gunmen on May 27 and tortured with a knife during the six days she was held captive in a basement in Donetsk.
An interrogator who became angry when the woman warded off blows from his fists then used a knife to slice into her neck, arms, knee and hand, the Amnesty report said, citing its investigation team's documentation of the scars from her mistreatment. At one point the militant interrogator forced her to write "I love Donbass" on the wall with her own blood, Amnesty said.
Donbass is the name of the heavily industrialized region in eastern Ukraine between the Don and the Dnieper rivers where pro-Russia gunmen have been battling to gain control of local government offices and police stations and armories in hopes that the territory would be annexed to Russia.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin swiftly seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea region early this year on the pretext of needing to protect Russian-speakers on the militarily strategic peninsula, he has ignored appeals from the separatists in eastern Ukraine to overtly take over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where they control about half the territory.
"All those engaged in this armed conflict must immediately and unconditionally release any captives who are still being held unlawfully and ensure that until their release they are protected from torture and other ill treatment," Amnesty said.
The group called on the government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to "create a single and regularly updated register of incidents of reported abductions, and thoroughly and impartially investigate every allegation of abusive use of force, ill treatment and torture" as the government regains control of the embattled areas along the Russian border, Amnesty said.