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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KIEV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden has arrived in Ukraine, where he was to announce an increase in American nonlethal aid for the nation’s fight against pro-Russian separatists amid a rising death toll, though talks about more serious weapons were not excluded. His arrival came after the United Nations claimed nearly 1,000 people were killed in Ukraine since a ceasefire was agreed between the fighting parties in September.
The U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said at least 957 people died since September 5, when the ceasefire was signed, to November 18. That list was expected to have reached some 1,000 people, as on average 13 people die every day amid ongoing clashes between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement that among those who died are also “civilians, including women, children, minorities and other vulnerable individuals and groups.”
Counting the nearly 300 people who died in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July, the overall toll since mid-April, when fighting started, stood at 4,317 deaths.
And an increasing number of people are fleeing the fighting. In Ukraine alone, the number of internally displaced people have increased to 466,829, compared to 275,489 as of September. 18, the report said.
Across the border, Ukrainian refugees now in Russia are 1 million, Russian authorities say, though Ukrainian officials claim the number is “vastly exaggerated” by Moscow for political reasons.
The U.N. report also highlighted human rights abuses on both side: One Ukrainian soldier said his right arm, bearing a “Glory to Ukraine” tattoo, had been chopped off with an axe by rebels. A pro-Russian separatist detained by Ukrainian forces in Donetsk claimed he had been suffocated with a plastic bag and repeatedly beaten.
International observers are suffering too: Monitors of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said one of their teams had been shot at by a man in uniform in eastern Ukraine, near the government -held town of Mariinka.
While the bullets struck about two meters from an OSCE vehicle and nobody was apparently injured, it was the first such deliberate attack. It followed warning shots fired Tuesday near the frontline town of Debaltseve.
The incidents have underscored European Union concerns over Ukraine’s domestic policing and security forces, prompting the EU to send some 50 advisers to Ukraine, explains mission official Kálmán Mizsei. “The law enforcement agencies very spectacular and very sadly got dysfunctional…The main aim of this mission is to reform them in a way that they do their job as they need to do,” he explained.
The West has accused Russia of involvement in the conflict, noted the EU’s new foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. However, “Russia is for sure part of the problem, but is also part of the solution of the crisis,” she argued.
Ukrainian authorities claimed Russian MiG-31 fighter jets were being positioned near Ukraine’s eastern border. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk accused Russia on Thursday of seeking “deliberately to provoke a large-scale war” and said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions were a “threat to everyone, the global order, global peace”.
Separately, President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, a NATO military alliance state and EU member, called Russia a a “terrorist state” in a radio interview.
Additionally NATO has complained about Russia’s growing military presence over the Baltic region, saying it poses a risk to civilian aviation.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general news developments from especially but not limited to (former) Communist nations and other autocratic states, impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals).