Kiev - Almost 130 people have been killed in the ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations said Friday, in a report that Russia quickly lambasted as politically biased.
The report, which was presented by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay in Kiev, lists examples of targeted killings, torture, abductions and intimidation, saying that they were mostly carried out “by well-organized and well-armed anti-government groups in the east”.
Ivan Simonovic, the Assistant UN Secretary General for Human Rights, said that 127 people have been killed since the Ukrainian government launched a military operation against the pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
He added that the total death toll since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine last November stood at around 250, not counting 83 persons who disappeared during the original “Maidan” anti-government protests in Kiev.
The UN report states that in the east, there has been a worrying rise in abductions and unlawful detention of journalists, activists, local politicians, soldiers and representatives of international organizations.”
“The bodies of a number of others have been dumped in rivers or other areas, and some remain unaccounted for,” it says, adding that the problem has been especially marked in and around the city of Sloviansk.
The authors also lists cases in which Kiev government forces operating in the east are accused of killing individuals and of being responsible for forced disappearances.
But the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the report showed “complete lack of objectivity, flagrant inconsistencies and double standards,” by “defending the Kiev junta and demonizing the pro-Russian movement” in southern and eastern Ukraine.
“No doubt its authors fulfilled political orders to whitewash the self-proclaimed authorities in Kiev,” ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
He added that the report violates the UN's neutrality principle and singled out Simonovic, a former Croatian Justice Minister, saying that his “one-sided and partisan” views of the situation in Ukraine are well-known.
The ministry also criticised a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which accuses pro-Russian activists of violent acts against Crimean Tatars.
“The reports distorts the real facts,” the ministry's human rights representative Konstantin Dolgov said on Twitter.
The situation in eastern Ukraine remained tense. In the city of Luhansk, armed separatists kidnapped three election officials, in a seeming attempt to prevent the May 25 presidential vote.
Dmytro Naboka, the head of polling precinct 106, and two computer programmers were taken to the city's State Security Building, which has been occupied by separatist protesters since early April, city council deputy Serhiy Davidov told the local 0642.ua news site.
Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko said Friday that the three had been released.
Poroshenko, a billionaire businessman who leads in opinion polls, also said that his representative in Makiivka, a mining city next to Donetsk, was severely beaten by unknown attackers, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported.
Leaders of the separatists, who control wide areas of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, have said they will not allow the presidential election to take place.
They have occupied at least four election commission offices in the regions.
Observers fear that the elections cannot go ahead in the two turbulent regions amid ongoing fighting between government forces and insurgents.
The Ukrainian Defence Ministry said that its troops came under fire at an airfield in Kramatorsk, south of Sloviansk. There were no casualties.
The Ukrainian government said that it would continue a series of so-called round table talks aimed at reconciliation. The second round will be held this Saturday in Kharkiv, it said.
The talks, whose first round on Wednesday brought no results, have been criticised because they include no representatives of the separatists.
Meanwhile, the European Union expressed hope that a row with Russia over Ukraine's gas debts could be solved. EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said that he is “cautiously optimistic” that a solution will be found within the coming to weeks.
“We are negotiating on the amount that should be paid per 1 000 cubic metres, and I hope that we can give you an answer in two weeks,” he told reporters in Athens.
Ukraine refuses to pay its 3.5 billion dollar arrears unless Russia lowers the gas price.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told EU leaders in a letter Thursday that the bloc is not doing enough to solve the dispute. EU Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde said that another round of talks with Russia and Ukraine on the issue was considered for May 26.