UNITED NATIONS — Nearly 10,000 people have been killed and more than 20,000 injured since the Ukraine conflict began in April 2014, a top U.N. official said Thursday.
Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun told the Security Council that the total number of casualties now stands at 30,729 including 9,333 people killed and 21,396 injured.
He said the latest incident occurred on April 27 when shelling killed at least four civilians and injured at least eight people in Olenivka near the city of Donetsk.
Zerihoun said that fighting has escalated in recent weeks to levels not seen since August 2014, when it was at its most intense and he called on all parties to cease hostilities.
He criticized both sides for hindering access to an international monitoring mission put in place under the Minsk ceasefire agreement ironed out by the Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany on Feb. 14, 2015, but said that according to statistics provided by the monitors restrictions were more common in rebel-held areas.
Thursday's Security Council meeting was the first to address the situation in Ukraine since December 2015.
During the meeting representatives from Russia and Ukraine traded bitter accusations over who was to blame for the flare-up in hostilities.
"Russia has organized and deployed in Donbas a 34,000-strong hybrid military force consisting of the regular Russian troops as well as of foreign and local militants. Russian generals and military officers provide direct command-and-control of this illegal military entity impressively heavily armed," Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine's deputy minister of foreign affairs, told the council.
He claimed this force is better armed than most NATO members despite the Russians' claims that the weapons were acquired in local hardware stores.
"Last time I checked you will hardly be able to buy a decent knife in Ukrainian hardware stores not to mention the multiple launch rocket systems and jet flamethrowers," Prystaiko said.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin denounced the U.N. session as a play for time while Ukraine's army occupies towns "in the neutral strip" stipulated by the Minsk agreement.
"Over the entire crisis the U.N. has been used as a propaganda platform," Churkin said, dismissing the Ukraine statement before the Security Council as "very disappointing," and "a lot of rhetoric."
Russia tried to circulate a press statement that would reaffirm the U.N.'s commitment to the Minsk agreement, but failed to gain consensus approval because it also called for an investigation into the killing of Russian protesters in Odessa, without mentioning violations of the ceasefire by rebel forces.
The U.S., France and Britain all denounced Russian aggression for igniting the conflict.
"What is happening today is the result of Russia's violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity which began with its occupation of Crimea more than two years ago and expanded with substantial military on the ground and weapons support for armed separatists in Eastern Ukraine," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council.