GENEVA - A United Nations report says there are reliable indications of an ongoing influx of heavy and sophisticated weaponry to armed groups in eastern Ukraine comprising foreign fighters, including from Russia.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued its 9th report March 2 on the situation of human rights in Ukraine based covering the period from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15.
The report presents unresolved and emerging human rights challenges in the eastern regions of Ukraine and in Crimea as well as other parts of the country and it includes attacks against religious minorities.
The report said, "Credible reports indicate a continuing influx of heavy and sophisticated weaponry to armed groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as foreign fighters, including from the Russian Federation."
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, on March 2, however, welcomed "tangible progress" in the implementation of an agreement reached in Minsk during February, reflecting the different narrative that Moscow follows.
Lavrov said, "The ceasefire is being consolidated, heavy weapons are withdrawn."
The U.N. report said that due to the serious escalation of eastern Ukraine's conflict since January and its devastating impact on civilians caught in indiscriminate shelling, it is essential to end the fighting without further delay.
The weapons' influx has fuelled new offensives by armed groups, undermining the potential for peace as they extend their areas of control.
Senator John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State told he Human Rights Council on the opening day of its 28th session saying, "There's the crisis in Ukraine, and here I urge the council: Look at the facts.
"Do not allow yourselves to be misled. In Crimea and in the separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, men, women, and children are being killed.
"They're being tortured; they're being raped and sexually assaulted, detained arbitrarily, abducted for ransom, forced into labor, prosecuted and persecuted because of who they are and where they worship.
"And that is what is happening, and it's up to the HRC to shed light on it and to help to hold accountable those who violate those human rights."
The U.N. report urged all parties in the conflict to implement fully the Minsk agreement.
These include a new ceasefire to have begun from Feb. 15 and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry by both sides to create a 50-140 kilometer (30 to 84 miles) security zone.
WITHDRAWAL OF FOREIGN ARMED GROUPS
It also includes the withdrawal of foreign armed formations, mercenaries, weapons from Ukraine's territory; and the reinstatement of full control of the State border by the Government in Kiev throughout the conflict area.
The Human Rights Mission in Ukraine said it continues monitoring the situation of minority groups and incidents of discrimination throughout Ukraine.
It noted Ukraine has a legislative, policy and social environment that is generally conducive to the protection of minority rights, including linguistic and cultural rights.
The mission received reports of alleged discrimination against Roma who frequently face additional challenges including lack of documents.
On Dec. 11 in Sverdlovsk (under control of the 'Luhansk People's Republic'), a group of armed men reportedly broke into Roma homes, robbed them and took their passports.
On Dec. 15, a Roma NGO reported that two police officers, in civilian clothes, came to the collective centre and harassed and threatened Roma IDPs and demanded money from them.
Then on Jan. 10, in Horlivka, five Jehovah's Witnesses ministers were taken to the office of a 'Donetsk people's republic' commander and accused of betraying the Orthodox religion.
"They were allegedly punched and kicked and subjected to mock execution. After several hours, they were released while threatened with being shot if they continued their religious activities," said the report.
On Jan. 22, in Donetsk city, a Jehovah's Witnesses minister was abducted at his workplace by members of the Oplot battalion, a military unit of 'Donetsk people's republic.'
He was blindfolded and interrogated several times before being released on Jan. 23.
In addition Dec. 5, 11 and 20, Kingdom Halls (prayer houses of Jehovah's Witnesses) were seized by armed groups in Krasnyi Luch, Telmanove and Zuhres.
An attack was recorded on Jan. 15 a synagogue was vandalised in Ivano-Frankivsk with offensive inscriptions.
The U.N. mission spoke with the local Jewish community representatives, who informed them that similar incidents had occurred previously, but never received appropriate attention by the law enforcement officials.
Such cases have always been categorized by police as hooliganism and the persons responsible have never been found.
Separately the Catholic Church in Ukraine said it is trying to assist people regardless of their confession.
The Archbishop of Lviv, Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, drew attention to this during a visit to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
"We look after refugees, provide pastoral as well as material care for the families of soldiers, operate soup kitchens, and we are now also distributing food and medicines to other needy people," said Archbishop Mokrzycki while visiting CAN.
"Pope Francis listened very carefully to us, the bishops from Ukraine, and he promised to speak out for peace in Ukraine to those in positions of political responsibility and to the international institutions.
"He also agreed to give us material assistance for our work on behalf of Ukraine," Mokrzycki emphasized.
The head of Ukraine's Greek Catholic church had on Feb. 23 urged a tougher line on Russian aggression in his country both from Pope Francis and the international community.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said a Feb. 4 statement from Francis, in which he called the conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists "fratricidal," was "particularly painful for all the people in Ukraine."
Early in February, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church had castigated the Greek-Catholic Church in Ukraine for being "divisive," saying its stance puts at risk the improving of relations between Rome and Moscow.
Patriarch Kirill at the same time singled out the Vatican for what he said is a measured tone in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
He pointed out that the Holy See had maintained its position on the resumption of peace talks instead of making "any lopsided assessments."
"Today, fresh conflicts in Ukraine in light of the latest political events in the country are causing concern in our relations with the Roman Catholic Church," the Patriarch was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.