Kiev - A new Amnesty International report on Friday highlighted the “hundreds” of abductions and incidents of torture by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, and also criticised the excessive force used by government forces.
“They beat me with their fists, a chair, anything they could find. They stubbed out cigarettes on my leg and electrocuted me. It went on for so long, I couldn't feel anything anymore. I just passed out,” Sasha, a 19-year-old kidnapped in the eastern city of Lugansk, told the rights group in the report.
Sasha had been a member of pro-Kiev “self-defence forces” in the separatist stronghold. He said he was only released after his father paid a $60 000 (45 000-euro) fine, after which he fled to the capital.
Amnesty's report paints a grim picture of rampant kidnapping, extortion and torture in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian forces seized control of key cities earlier this year and are currently engaged in a desperate battle against advancing government forces.
The rights group said it was impossible to provide reliable statistics amid the chaos, with no attempt by authorities to create a single register of incidents or victims.
But the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission for Ukraine has logged 222 credible cases of abduction, while Ukraine's interior ministry puts the figure at 387 between April and June 7 alone, including 39 journalists.
Amnesty also noted reports of unlawful detention by pro-Kiev forces.
It focused on video footage from May that appeared to show a member of parliament, Oleg Lyashko, and several armed men interrogating two separatist leaders in the back of a car, reportedly in the southeastern city of Mariupol.
Both captives were blindfolded and one - a former defence minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic - was almost completely naked and bleeding from two cuts, Amnesty said.
The group also raised concerns about excessive force used by pro-Kiev forces as they sought to regain control of the east, including an incident in April when they reportedly shot dead five armed men at a roadblock near Slavyansk, and the reported killing of two civilians when troops fired into a crowd in the town of Krasnoarmeisk in May.
It reported the story of Vladimir Aleksandrovich, a 16-year-old known as “Vlad the Streamer” after he posted extensive footage of government forces using firearms and armoured vehicles in Mariupol.
He claims he was grabbed off the street by pro-Kiev troops in June and taken to the airport where he was beaten with rifle butts and forced to shout Ukrainian nationalist slogans on video.
“The lawless situation in eastern Ukraine has been facilitated by the erosion of the rule of law over the past six months which has seen repeated amnesties for perpetrators of crimes,” said Amnesty, calling for the immediate release of all hostages and investigations into rights abuses on both sides of the conflict.
Abductions, torture and murder have been rampant since the start of anti-government protests in November that led to the fall of the pro-Russian regime four months later.
Several leading protesters were kidnapped, beaten and driven out to remote locations during the demonstrations.
Well-known activist and journalist Igor Lutsenko was blindfolded and dumped in a forest outside Kiev but managed to find help and survived.
Another activist, Yury Verbytsky, who was kidnapped on the same day in January, was found dead in the forest, with broken ribs and traces of duct tape around his head.