Civilian casualties rise as fighting continues in east Ukraine

2016-08-10 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Fighting is raging once again in eastern Ukraine with the United Nations saying that civilian casualties have reached the highest level in a year. The ongoing conflict between government forces and Russian-backed separatists has also added to pressure on media, after personal details were released of thousands of journalists.    

Listen to Stefan Bos’ report:

Amid the turmoil, Ukrainian government forces could be seen trying to halt an apparent attack by Russian-backed separatists around the town of Maryinka, near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers were seen responding to the attack with machine-gun fire and grenades. The July 30 violence of which video footage just emerged, is one of several incidents that has worried international observers with the U.N. already warning that the number of civilian casualties in fighting in eastern Ukraine is back to last year's highs.

The UN Human Rights Office said it documented 69 civilian casualties in June, including 12 dead. This is nearly double the figure for May 2016 and the highest figure since August 2015.

The figure rose further to 73 civilian casualties in July, including eight dead. In total fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed at least more than 9,550 people since April 2014 when the conflict began.

CASUALTIES HIGHER

However the UN says the real number of casualties may be higher and the International Crisis Group has said that "there is little doubt that the death toll is significantly higher than either side admits."

U.N. officials believe that more than half of all the casualties recorded in the past two months were caused by shelling. For Ukraine's army, July was the deadliest month since August 2015. Authorities say at least 42 servicemen were killed and 181 wounded.

A cease-fire deal signed last year in Minsk, Belarus, was meant to halt the fighting. But observers say many of its key points such as the complete withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line have not been implemented.

Yet it has become increasingly difficult for reporters to independently cover the conflict: Website Myrotvorets ('Peacekeeper') has been able to publish names and addresses of some 4,500 journalists and media personnel who it claimed had collaborated with Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.

These and other controversies prompted Deputy Minister of Information Policy Tetyana Popova to announced her resignation. She says the journalists made a formal appeal and I supported them. And after that the attacks began on those journalists who appealed, on investigative journalists, but the attacks are not investigated sufficiently."

PRESIDENT PRESSURED

It has added to pressure on pro-Westen President Petro Poroshenko to prove he is serious about democratic changes and reforms in the war torn nation. 

Poroshenko did voice support for the journalists over the disclosure scandal, and the Ukrainian Security Service promised to look into the matter.

Yet for now journalists claim to have received threatening phone calls.
 
In the most serious incident last month, a car bomb in Kiev killed Pavel Sheremet, a pioneering journalist and outspoken critic of leaders in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.  Sheremet had won the Committee to Protect Journalists press freedom award and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) prize for journalism and democracy.

Colleagues including the editor of Ukrainian Pravda website where he worked said they believed the July 20 killing was retribution for his work. Poroshenko condemned the murder and even asked the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help find those behind the attack.

(from Vatican Radio)