by Theo Russell
ACCORDING to figures recently obtained from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) authorities, since the February 2015 Minsk II agreement over 3,600 civilians have died in the republic because of shelling, sniper and other attacks by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The DPR, along with the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), broke away from Ukraine in May 2014 following “status referendums” and the two republics declared a confederation, Novorossiya.
They grew out of the “Anti-Maidan” movement in the largely Russian-speaking Donbas, Odessa and Crimea regions that sought to prevent the far-right groups which hijacked the “Euromaidan” protests entering their towns and cities after the February 2014 fascist coup in Kiev.
It was hoped that Minsk II, which followed the September 2014 Minsk Protocol and was signed by Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, François Holland and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, would end the war in eastern Ukraine and pave the way for elections and separate status for the “people’s republics”.
But the fighting has never really ended and there are reports of civilian casualties caused by Ukrainian strikes on the rebel republics on an almost daily basis. On 28th August, according to residents of the Petrovsky district of Donetsk city, a Ukrainian sniper shot two women dead “just for fun”.
According to data obtained recently from the DPR authorities, 3,609 civilians died in strikes by Ukrainian forces between 13 February 2015 and 26 August 2016, of which 3,133 were men, 476 women, 65 children and 352 “unknown”.
In addition, figures from the DPR Ministry of Utilities and Housing Construction state that up 20 July 2016, 4, 359 “multi-family housing” were damaged, of which 54 are irreparable, and 6,307 private houses damaged, of which 1,853 are irreparable.
As the neighbouring Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) has also experienced similar military strikes and civilian casualties, a very rough estimate would suggest that at least 6,000 civilians have died in strikes by Ukrainian forces on the Donbass republics since Minsk II.
Obtaining accurate figures for casualties in the war in eastern Ukraine is extremely difficult because of the unstable and insecure situation on the ground, and the fact that the conflict is highly politicised and controversial.
On 3rd August the UN assistant secretary-general for political affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun reported to the UN Security Council that the total number of conflict-related casualties since the Ukrainian government launched its “Anti-Terrorist Operation” in April 2014 was 30,729, including 9,333 killed and 21,396 injured.
But the report provides no breakdown of where the casualties have occurred other than “in the conflict area” and there is no indication of which side was responsible.
According to the latest figures from the UN Human Rights Office (UNHRO) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 261 civilians were killed in the conflict on both sides from February 2015 to June 2016 — far fewer than the DPR’s figures would suggest.
But the UNHRO says that its figures are a “conservative estimate of the OHCHR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] based on available data” that are “incomplete due to gaps in coverage of certain geographic areas and time periods, and due to overall under-reporting.”
In February 2015 press reports quoted claims from the German BND intelligence service that 50,000 civilians and servicemen had died in the Ukraine conflict, almost 10 times greater than figures given by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshkenko only days before, which said 1,200 Ukrainian soldiers and 5,400 civilians had died.
The Ukraine government does not appear to have any accurate figures for civilian casualties in the conflict. A report in May quoting Mykhailo Koval, First Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, said “Russia-backed militants have killed 10,000 Ukrainians and injured more than 20,000 over the past two years” — a strangely precise number, with no breakdown of civilian and military casualties or locations.
The only other body providing detailed information on casualties in the conflict is the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, which has over 570 unarmed civilian monitors in the conflict region. But apart from daily updates the SMM has provided no total figures for casualties, although it has issued reports on the displacement of civilians, access to water and “Gender Dimensions of SMM’s Monitoring”.
Relations between the DPR and LPR governments and the OSCE mission have been deteriorating for months, with the people’s republics claiming it is biased towards the Ukrainian side.
On 29th August the DPR’s Defence Ministry claimed OSCE observers had refused to register damage caused by Ukrainian shelling of Yasinivataya, just north of Donetsk city, “explaining this by the absence of security in this area.”
Last April the Donbas International News Agency reported that the OSCE mission failed to report heavy shelling of Zaitsevo, a village close to the front-line, by Ukrainian forces. At the time Zaitsevo was a flashpoint stoking fears of a return to all-out war, with over a thousand people without electricity, gas or humanitarian aid for several months.
It was also claimed in April that the OSCE failed report the shelling of a hospital in Yelenovka, despite reporting another shelling only 880 metres away. According to reports from the DPR side, 6 civilians were killed and 10 wounded in the two strikes.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine’s mandate says that its mission is “to reduce tensions and to help foster peace, stability and security” by engaging “with authorities at all levels, as well as civil society, ethnic and religious groups and local communities to facilitate dialogue on the ground.”
In May the leaders of the DPR reacted strongly to claims by Poroshenko’s press office that the other leaders of the “Normandy four” contact group (Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine) had approved the deployment of an armed OSCE police force to the region. Poroshenko said it would be “well-armed with heavy weapons.”
The leaders of the DPR government, Denis Pushilin and Alexander Zakharchenko, declared this plan a “foreign intervention”. Zakharchenko called on Kiev to make a real effort for a peaceful settlement “rather than trying to arm the OSCE to seize the Donbas.”
Accusations that the OSCE serves Western interests date back to the 2004—2005 “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine. In 2007 Vladimir Putin said that Western States were “trying to transform the OSCE into a vulgar instrument designed to promote the foreign policy interests of one or a group of countries,” using “so-called non-governmental organisations tailored for this task” that “are formally independent but are purposefully financed and therefore under control.”
Russia remains an active OSCE member however, because the organisation would play a major part in any implementation of the Minsk agreements.
Incredibly, the OSCE has declared every election in Ukraine since the February 2014 fascist coup legitimate, despite the fact that the coup was carried out by armed Nazi-supporting groups (Svoboda and the Right Sector), and the removal of Viktor Yanukovych was in breach of the Ukrainian constitution on several counts.
According to the OSCE, the May 2014 presidential election was “a genuine election largely in line with international commitments and with a respect for fundamental freedoms in the vast majority of the country,” and the parliamentary election in October 2014 had “offered voters real choice, and a general respect for fundamental freedoms.”
So the OSCE clearly saw no problems with the fact that many violent Nazis, including militia leaders guilty of serious crimes, were elected to parliament, or that 84 neo-Nazi battalions continue to run amok in Ukraine, attacking, murdering and kidnapping any opponents of the regime, desecrating Jewish holocaust memorials, and threatening and intimidating judges and the police.
According to Donbas sources, a ceasefire announced on 1st September by the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE), and renewed twice since then, seems to have had little effect. Both the Donbas International News Agency and the OSCE have reported hundreds of violations in the past week.
The truth is that there are no internationally accepted figures for civilian deaths in the Ukraine war — but as in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Libya and Syria many thousands have died as a result of wars launched by US—NATO imperialism.And all the while the people of Ukraine are languishing under an effective dictatorship, under which no democratic rights exist, and no opposition to ultra-nationalism or outright fascism is tolerated.