U.N. rights agency reports 'total breakdown' in eastern Ukraine

U.N. rights agency reports 'total breakdown' in eastern Ukraine
Firefighters tackle a blaze Nov. 20 after shelling destroyed several houses in suburban Donetsk, the main eastern Ukraine flashpoint in a conflict that has taken more than 4,300 lives since April. (Menahem Kahana / AFP/Getty Images)

More than 4,300 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine's "total breakdown of law and order," the United Nations human rights agency reported Thursday.

The Geneva-based U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights lamented what it said was "a large amount of sophisticated weaponry, as well as foreign fighters that include servicemen from the Russian Federation" for worsening an already dire situation for residents of the embattled region.


"Civilians have continued to be killed, unlawfully detained, tortured and disappeared in eastern Ukraine," High Commissioner Zeid Raad Hussein reported, noting that nearly 1,000 deaths have occurred since a Sept. 5 cease-fire was signed by the warring parties in Minsk, Belarus.

"All parties need to make a far more wholehearted effort to resolve this protracted crisis peacefully," Hussein said in a statement accompanying the report of 4,317 deaths and 9,921 injuries since mid-April.

"The situation in the conflict-affected area is becoming increasingly entrenched, with the total breakdown of law and order and the emergence of parallel governance systems in the territories under the control" of separatists, Hussein reported.

The grim U.N. agency account coincided with a new appeal by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg for Russia to withdraw its forces and press its separatist proxies in eastern Ukraine to respect the cease-fire they signed.

"We call on Russia to stop fueling the conflict," Stoltenberg said during a visit to Estonia, a former Soviet republic that is now independent and a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, another of the Baltic republics that broke free of Russia's grip when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, warned during a visit to Sweden on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to "drastically reorganize international security in the world, and especially in Europe."

"We're facing a situation in which some of our neighbors are becoming a terrorist country," Grybauskaite said, according to a Bloomberg news agency account of her remarks at a Swedish business awards ceremony.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 57-nation alliance to which Russia and Ukraine belong, also reported Thursday that security conditions in eastern Ukraine were deteriorating. The alliance said its monitors were fired on by "uniformed personnel" after they encountered an unmarked military convoy about 10 miles west of Donetsk.

NATO has been reporting a massive buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine's border, as well as the incursion of dozens of tanks and armored vehicles into the conflict zones.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the Ukrainian and Russian capitals this week in what he said was a last-ditch attempt to avert all-out war between Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed separatists. He told reporters that his talks with Putin revealed "views which seriously differ" from those of the West on the origins of the Ukraine conflict and what needs to be done to end it.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also indicated that little progress was made during Steinmeier's shuttle diplomacy. Lavrov reiterated the Kremlin position that the fighting in Ukraine is the result of a "reckless, nonstop expansion of NATO" into Russia's traditional sphere of influence in the former Soviet territory.

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