Story highlights

Number of conflict-related civilian casualties climbing in Ukraine

This week's meeting between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany proved major disagreements persist

CNN  — 

Ukraine’s prolonged crisis and political stalemate are causing a growing sense of despair and isolation among millions living in the conflict zone, the United Nations warned in a report released Thursday.

The fragile ceasefire is pierced daily by violations, while the number of conflict-related civilian casualties keeps climbing.

“There is a terrible sensation of physical, political, social and economic isolation and abandonment among the huge number of people – more than 3 million in all – who are struggling to eke out a living in the conflict zone,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “They are in urgent need of greater protection and support.”

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The report shows that between November 16, 2015, and February 15, 2016, 78 civilian casualties were recorded in eastern Ukraine, bringing the estimated casualty figures since the beginning of the conflict to more than 30,000. That includes at least 9,160 killed and 21,000 injured. The figures include civilians, Ukrainian military personnel and members of armed groups.

The report points out that people living around the so called “contact line” – the area separating the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic,” or DPR, and the “Luhansk People’s Republic,” or LPR, from the rest of Ukraine – are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses.

It describes “a complete absence of rule of law, reports of arbitrary detention, torture and no access to real redress mechanisms,” with documented allegations of violations committed by both separatists and Ukrainian forces.

A recent wave of arrests in DPR “has had a further chilling effect on the ability of people to exercise their already heavily circumscribed rights to the freedom of expression, religion, peaceful assembly and association,” the report reads. It goes on to say that Ukrainian law enforcement officials, mainly elements of the Security Service of Ukraine, were also suspected of enforced disappearances, detentions and torture.

“I urge the Ukrainian authorities to ensure prompt and impartial investigation into each and every reported human rights violation,” said Zeid. “Each violation that goes un-investigated and unpunished saps the state’s moral and legal authority.”

Latest Normandy meeting unfruitful

Thursdays’ Normandy format meeting in Paris between the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany proved that despite some progress, major disagreements persist. The meeting was part of steps for the implementation of the Minsk accord.

“It was a very difficult meeting,” said Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin. “We can’t reach any breakthrough and we have still thousands and thousands of our hostages in Donetsk and Luhansk.”

“We know about a lot of weaponry hidden in Donbas,” he said. “We have no access to the Ukrainian-Russian border.”

Part of Thursday’s discussions were also arrangements for local elections in separatist-controlled areas, aimed to take place in the first half of the year, but Klimkin said progress on that front won’t be feasible without security and stability on the ground. “Security first, without security we can’t deliver on anything further,” he said.

“The proposal to call on the sides at today’s meeting to agree based on the Minsk documents on holding local elections in Donbass in the first half of the year by June or July came from our German and French colleagues,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted as saying by state news agency TASS.

“We were ready to support it,” he said. “But the Ukrainian side asked not to insist on this and finally, there was no consensus.”

After the meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that “courageous decisions rather than tiny steps” are needed for the successful implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, a claim Russia vehemently denies.