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Ukraine death toll 2,593 as foreign fighters 'pour in'

A total of 2,593 people including civilians as well as Ukrainian and separatist combatants have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine since it erupted in mid-April, a senior UN human rights official said this morning.

"The trend is clear and alarming. There is a significant increase in the death toll in the east," said Ivan Simonovic.

"The current number of killed is 2,593 - close to 3,000 if we include the 298 victims of the MH17 Malaysian Airlines plane crash."

Simonovic, presenting a report by a UN monitoring mission, said civilian casualties would continue to rise "as each side increases its strength, through mobilisation, better organisation or the deployment of new fighters and more sophisticated weapons and support from outside".

Simonovic said the alleged participation of foreign fighters "pouring in" to join the hostilities - a reference to Russian troops and volunteer fighters - was especially disturbing.


The report accused pro-Russian separatists of human rights abuses including murder, abductions and torture and said they were receiving a "steady supply" of sophisticated weapons and ammunition.

The report also cited reports of human rights violations by Ukraine's military forces and special battalions run by the interior ministry.

"Armed groups continue to commit killings, abductions, physical and psychological torture, ill-treatment, executions, murder and other serious human rights abuses," the report said, adding that violations were disproportionately targeting civilians.

"The Ukraine military has reported shelling from Russian territory and of the illegal use of landmines in Ukraine territory," the monitors said.

The US and European powers have closed ranks with Ukraine in condemning what they said is an upsurge in Russian troop incursions and intensified fighting as the government in Kiev struggles to counter a separatist offensive.

President Barack Obama said Russia faces "more costs and consequences" because it "has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Ukraine. He ruled out "a military solution to this problem".

Fighting spread today in Ukraine's easternmost regions. Ukrainian soldiers are battling Russian-backed forces near Donetsk, Luhansk, Alchevsk and other towns in the area.

Insurgents took control of several towns outside their strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, including near the Sea of Azov. That opened a seaborne supply channel for the rebels, said Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov.

Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk issued a plea for international help in defending against Russia's army, which he said "is armed to the teeth".