There are increasing fears for the safety of the local population in Slovyansk as the Ukrainian forces are trying to re-assert control over the eastern Ukrainian town, Amnesty International said today.
“As the operation intensifies there is an ever present risk of bystanders being caught in the cross fire. We are calling on all sides to refrain from committing human rights abuses,” said Heather McGill, Amnesty International researcher on Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian armed forces and armed groups alike must do everything within their power to safeguard the right to life during this tumultuous period.”
On 30 April the acting president of Ukraine stated that the situation in Donetsk and in parts of Donetsk region, including Slovyansk, was extremely dangerous because the Ukrainian authorities were no longer able to exert any control.
“As the struggle for control of Ukraine continues, it is the general population that stand to suffer. Above all their rights must be protected,” said Heather McGill, Amnesty International researcher on Ukraine. “Right now they are at risk from both sides. They are at risk during security operations by the Ukrainian interior and armed forces and they are risk of abuse at the hands of armed groups.”
More than 20 people have been abducted in Slovyansk by armed groups resisting the Kyiv authorities since 13 April including foreign journalists and a group of eight military observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The foreign journalists have been released, and one of the OSCE military observers was released on health grounds on 27 April.
At least three Ukrainian journalists and a local resident are still being held in captivity. Artem Deynega, a Slovyansk resident, was abducted on 13 April by unidentified people after he was seen filming from a balcony across the street from the Ukrainian Security Services Headquarters. Serhiy Lefter a journalist working with the Open Dialogue Foundation disappeared on 15 April. Serhiy Shapoval from Volyn Post was last in contact with his family on 26 April. Irma Krat, a reporter and EuroMaydan protest activist, was abducted on 20 April.
On 29 April, Mikhail Konovalov, an educational psychologist and Amnesty International activist in Slovyansk was stopped by four masked armed men at a checkpoint and interrogated because he was carrying an Amnesty International calendar. They forced him to his knees at gunpoint and tied his hands with nylon cord. He was forcibly held at the checkpoint for about half an hour before the order to release him was given.
“I was scared. I didn’t think they would kill me, but I thought they wouldn’t hesitate to injure me,” said Mikhail Konovalov.
“The targeting of journalists and human rights defenders is despicable and must end. They are the ones that investigate and make known human rights abuses. Their work must be protected,” said Heather McGill.