UN puts Ukraine death toll at 9,000 in two years

Pro-Russian rebels search for explosive devices in the Donetsk airport in Ukraine. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Pro-Russian rebels search for explosive devices in the Donetsk airport in Ukraine. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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More than 9,000 people have died in 21 months of fighting in eastern Ukraine, even as a new ceasefire has largely held and contributed to a sharp decline in casualties since mid-August, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said yesterday.

The office of High Commissioner for Human Rights said a “ceasefire within a ceasefire” agreed in late August and subsequent withdrawal of heavy weapons from frontlines has calmed violence between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

OHCHR cautioned in its 12th monitoring report on the Ukraine conflict that skirmishes in early November along the contact line have fanned fears of a possible resumption of shelling of population centres.

The report, covering 16 August 16 to 15 November, said 9,098 people including combatants and civilians have now died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine since April last year – including 47 civilians in that three-month period. The total is up from 7,883 tallied in the previous quarterly report released in September. More than 20,000 have been injured, up from 17,610 in the September report.

“This increase of almost 1,200 killed and over 3,000 injured is because of the counting that is made by official authorities, especially the ministry of defence and the ministry of interior,” said Gianni Magazzeni, a senior UN official involved in the report. “We tried to bring the figures... in line with available information at the present time.”

However, he noted that “there remain a large number of unidentified bodies in morgues, in multiple places, especially in the areas controlled by armed groups”.

Since the report’s cutoff date of 15 November, six people have been killed and 21 have been wounded, Mr Magazzeni said.

The easing of tensions comes after a particularly violent period from mid-May to mid-August, when 105 civilians were killed. The new report said the Ukrainian government has applied some provisions of an accord struck in Minsk, Belarus, that aims to help end the violence.

“After more than 9,000 people have lost their lives, the reduction in hostilities, and thus in new casualties, is very welcome,” said UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein.