In the last four months, Ukraine has been pushed to the edge of civil war as pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian authorities clash over territory. Dozens have been killed. The nation’s eastern region, where the conflict is concentrated, has turned into a terrifying, lawless land, according to a report by Amnesty International that was released Friday.
The report includes accounts of torture, abductions, and other human-rights violations against protesters, activists, and journalists in southeastern Ukraine in recent weeks. While armed pro-Russian separatist groups are carrying out the bulk of the violence, the report found evidence of brutality by Kiev forces as well.
Since the conflict began in earnest in March, the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission for Ukraine has confirmed 222 cases of abduction, the AFP reports. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry says 387 people were kidnapped between April and June, including 39 journalists.
Here are some of the harrowing stories of poor treatment or unlawful detention compiled by Amnesty International.
Ukrainian journalist Serhiy Lefter, who was abducted on April 17 while reporting in Slovyansk and released in early May:
“It was a basement. Three rooms. We slept on the floor, of course. Those who were there for a long time were allowed to sleep on a makeshift bed that we made out of some doors and some warm clothes that they gave us. And they slept on that bed. That was the biggest room. All the others — the new ones that were brought in — sat on benches and slept sort of half sitting. At first, I also slept like that on some sort of crates — half sitting, half lying down. It was cold, of course. It was a basement, after all.”
The May 17 interrogation of two men by Oleh Lyashko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, captured on video near Mariupol:
The two captives, who are initially blindfolded, are seen with their hands tied behind their backs being interrogated by Oleh Lyashko, who also appears to be in charge of a group of armed men. One of the captives introduces himself as Igor Khakmizyanov, former minister of defence of the self-styled [separatist group] People’s Republic of Donetsk. He is almost totally naked, with two distinct bleeding cuts on his body. At least eight men are seen outside the car, wearing unidentifiable black uniforms. Four of them are wearing facemasks and holding Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Hanna, a pro-Ukrainian activist, abducted with her boyfriend, Fedor, by armed men in Donetsk on May 27 and held for six days:
“My face was smashed — he punched me in the face with his fist, he was trying to beat me everywhere, I was covering myself with my hands”¦. I was huddled in the corner, curled up in a ball with my hands around my knees. He was angry that I was trying to protect myself. He went out and came back with a knife.”
“I was in shock, so I didn’t feel any pain, but you look at these cuts and you think that it’s not you. It was sick. Your own countrymen interrogating you with such cruelty. I was lost, I was so worried, I thought it was the end”¦. I thought I might be killed”¦. At the end of the interrogation [he said,] “Pray now — I’m going to kill you,” and then he slit [the back of] my neck with the knife.”
Sasha, a 19-year-old member of a Ukrainian self-defense group in Luhansk, who was kidnapped on June 12 and released after his father paid a $60,000 ransom:
“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.”
Amnesty International says that some separatist groups appear to use hostages as bargaining chips, negotiating their release in exchange for fellow militants captured by Ukrainian police.
In a phone call Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden urged Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to establish a monitoring mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a crisis-management organization, along the border between Ukraine and Russia.