Ukraine crisis: Country nearing 'point of no return', warns UN official

Ivan Simonovic said there is a 'window of opportunity' that must be used if the crisis is to be resolved

Ukraine is on the brink of chaos, a senior UN official has warned.

UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic told the BBC that Ukraine is approaching “the point of no return”, as there continues to be no resolution to the crisis.

Mr Simonovic said that tensions between government forces and pro-separatists had worrying echoes of the 1990s war in Croatia, where he was born.

Over the weekend the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement condemning what it described as a sharp escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militants have declared “people's republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk, following an unofficial referendum in favour of independence.

The separatists have refused to participate in EU-brokered talks being held in Kharkiv in a bid to resolve the crisis, saying they are willing to discuss only the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops and the recognition of the independence of the regions.

On Saturday, a man named Alexander Borodai was appointed as prime minister for the so-called People’s Republic of Donetsk, the BBC reported.

 

Mr Simonovic told the broadcaster: “What I'm really afraid is that country is approaching to a point of no return if there is no adequate and urgent action taken.”

The UN says it has documented innumerable episodes of abduction, torture and murder in the south and east of the country.

And Mr Simonovic said that although these incidents were committed by both sides in the conflict, the majority were by the separatists,

An election for the new Ukrainian president is scheduled for 25 May, following the ousting of Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February, after months of protests in Kiev.

Mr Simonovic added that although he hoped the election would go ahead it would be “extremely difficult”.

“I firmly believe that there is a window of opportunity that should be used,” he said.

On Saturday lawmakers and officials from eastern Ukraine poured criticism on the fledging central government, accusing it of ignoring legitimate grievances of the regions which have been overrun by separatists.

But acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on the eastern leaders to resist the armed men and support the government's efforts to devolve powers to the regions.

No representatives of the separatists from Donetsk and Luhansk were present at the talks.

Oleksandr Bandurka, a Communist party lawmaker and police general from central Ukraine, said that these negotiations make no sense because “we're not talking to those who oppose us. We cannot ignore them”.

Ukraine's first president, Leonid Kravchuk, who is chairing the talks, angrily reacted that “no one in the world talks to killers and terrorists. Putin doesn't talk to terrorists”.

Russia has pushed for the federalization of Ukraine, since that would allow Moscow to retain influence over areas in Ukraine dominated by Russian-speakers. Many in eastern Ukraine and in the capital favour closer ties to Europe and fear being pulled back into Moscow's orbit.

Volodymyr Groisman, acting prime minister in charge of the reforms to decentralize the government, countered the claims of some eastern lawmakers that only federalization will bring peace to Ukraine.

“You were saying the unitary system of government is no longer effective?” Groisman said.

“An inefficient government and dirty politics — this is what led to the fact that so many people in our country are poor.”

Attempting to end the talks on a conciliatory note, Yatsenyuk quoted Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko and told the leaders from eastern Ukraine: “We are ready to embrace you and hope that you are too.”

US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki rejected the “illegal actions” of pro-Russian militants. But she said the US supports the efforts by “elected and legitimate representatives” meeting in Kharkiv “to discuss constitutional and nonviolent approaches to resolving their differences”.

“Any decisions made about Ukraine must be taken by those with lawful authority, representing the citizens of Ukraine as a whole, and not under threat of foreign military intervention,” she said.

The next round of talks is expected to be held in the central city of Cherkasy on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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