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At least 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 others wounded since mid-April, the United Nations said this week.
According to a report released by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, more than 100,000 people have fled the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
In a document titled Report on the Human Rights situation in Ukraine, which covers the July 8 to July 15 period, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) said:
The current intense fighting using heavy weaponry in and around population areas, has devastated towns and villages, demolishing residential buildings and killing an increasing number of their inhabitants. Precautionary measures should be taken to avoid the deaths and injury of civilians.
On Tuesday, at least three cities in eastern Ukraine were shelled by government forces, local sources said.
They said that five people were killed when a home for elderly care was partially destroyed by shelling in Luhansk. Russian television said that a school and apartment block was also hit.
In the Donetsk district, where pro-Russian separatists have hunkered down for an expected final battle with advancing government forces, at least one person was killed and several injured when an apartment district was hit by artillery fire.
“The reports of increasingly intense fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are extremely alarming,” Pillay has said.
The UN has condemned both sides for their use of heavy weaponry in civilian areas, impacting not only civilian livelihood but infrastructure as well.
On Tuesday, CNN reported that Kiev government forces have used short-range surface-to-surface rockets for the first time in their battles with the rebels.
The report appears to confirm an earlier investigation by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said last week that government forces had used Grad rockets in the Donetsk district.
At least 16 civilians died due to the heavy shelling in Donetsk, HRW said.
While HRW also said that the rebels were known to use such heavy artillery, the group has called on the US and EU to condemn the use of this kind of weaponry and demand Kiev stop.
In late June and early July, Ukrainian troos made considerable gains against the rebels and seized the strategic eastern town of Slovyansk in their bid to recapture Donetsk and Luhansk.
The two cities have a total population of about 1.5 million civilians, many of whom fear that Ukrainian forces will level residential areas and entire districts where rebels are positioned.
According to Ukraine National Security and Defense Council chief Andriy Parubiy, Kiev’s forces control 13 of 18 districts in Donetsk region.
Rebel leaders say that they are urging civilians to leave Donetsk and have hinted that they could force a refugee crisis on Moscow in order to procure military supplies.
According to the UN report,
In some places the situation was worse than in others. Slovyansk city (normal population about 130,000 which by early July was down to less than half) in northern Donetsk region was, since April, the stronghold and main base of operations for the armed groups. The residents were particularly badly affected due to the almost constant shelling and fighting there for weeks as the armed groups and Government forces clashed.
Pillay said that there has been serious damage done to civilian infrastructure – and with the large number of civilian deaths – the UN believes there have been violations of international humanitarian law in eastern Ukraine.
The UN report also revealed how armed groups continue to abduct and detain, people kept as hostages in order to “intimidate and to exercise their power over the population in raw and brutal ways”.
There are also reports of alleged executions following so-called military tribunals, the report added.