PRO-RUSSIAN separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine are guilty of kidnapping and torture on a huge scale, Amnesty International has claimed.
The report was published as clashes between rebels and government forces escalated into some of the bloodiest fighting seen since the start of the conflict in April, with reports of at least 30 Ukrainian troops dying in one rocket attack.
Detailing human rights abuses in rebel-held towns, Amnesty said there had been “hundreds” of cases of abduction and torture, although the organisation stressed it was currently impossible to compile exact statistics.
While Amnesty also criticised the use of “excessive force” by forces loyal to the Ukrainian government, it said most crimes had been carried out by rebels.
“The bulk of the abductions are being perpetrated by armed separatists, with the victims often subjected to stomach-turning beatings and torture, but there is also evidence of a smaller number of abuses by pro-Kiev forces,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.
The report highlighted the case of Sasha, a 19-year-old kidnapped in the rebel-held town of Luhansk.
“They beat me with their fists, a chair, anything they could find. They stubbed out cigarettes on my leg and electrocuted me,” Sasha told Amnesty. “It went on for so long, I couldn’t feel anything any more. I passed out.”
He was only released after his family paid a £35,000 ransom.
The report coincided with documents found by the Ukrainian press in towns liberated by government forces, apparently detailing the trial and summary execution of prisoners by pro-Russian rebels.
The victims were allegedly charged, tried and executed under the auspices of a Stalin-era Soviet law.
“By order of the military-field tribunal of the [Donetsk People’s Republic] militia on 17.06.2014,” one document states, “I hereby proclaim that Aleksey Borisovich Pichko, resident of the city of Sloviansk, is sentenced for looting to an exceptional measure of punishment – execution by firing squad – on the basis of the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR ‘on martial law’ from June 22nd, 1941.”
The news of human rights abuses came as fighting continued to rage in parts of eastern Ukraine, where government forces maintained their offensive aimed at driving rebels from their strongholds in Donetsk and Luhansk.
In one incident, as many as 30 Ukrainian soldiers and border guards may have died when rebels used Grad missiles – a ground-launched missile system – to attack their base.
“Up to 30 [were killed],” said Zoryan Shkyryak, adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister. “It is not excluded that the number of victims will rise because these blood-thirsty scum despicably fired Grad systems and there is a lot of destruction.”
At the same, time Vladyslav Seleznyov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s armed forces, claimed that “at least 50 rebels were wiped out in the past 24 hours.”