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Ukraine’s U.N. envoy claims ‘ethnic cleansings’ happening in Crimea

'We never had even this word, ethnic cleansing, in Ukraine, until the occupation came to Crimea,' Ukraine's U.N. ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev said

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“Ethnic cleansings” are taking place in Crimea after its annexation by Russia in March, Ukraine's U.N. ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told Al Arabiya’s New York Bureau Chief Talal al-Haj in an interview on Friday.

“We never had even this word, ethnic cleansing, in Ukraine, until the occupation came to Crimea, so now we have ethnic cleansings of Muslims, Christians,” Sergeyev said.

“Today in the morning, the Russian occupying troops… seized the Madrassh [Islamic seminary], just throwing the Muslims from their homes, from their schools. This we never had. We lived in peace,” he added.

The Ukrainian envoy was responding to a question whether Kiev’s military operation in the turbulent Russian-speaking majority of the country verged on “ethnic cleansings,” as Russia’s envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Andrei Kelin had claimed earlier this month.

15-point peace plan

On newly-elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s 15-point peace plan aimed at bringing order to country’s east, where separatist pro-Russian rebels have battled with government forces since April, Sergeyev also said that the plan had “started to work.”

Dialogue with regional authorities and rebel representatives after a ceasefire “gives some feelings that [we] can proceed with reconciliation,” he said.

On Friday, Ukraine - along with Moldova and Georgia, two other former USSR states - signed an economic and political pact with the European Union, pushing the troubled country closer into a European orbit over the protests of Russia, which warned of possible sanctions.

Poroshenko’s pro-Moscow predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, had backed out of signing the agreement in November, igniting the bloody protests that toppled his government in February.

Tensions between Ukrainians in the west who want closer ties to Europe and those who favor traditional ties with Russia sparked an insurgency in the east and Russia's annexation of the mainly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula in March.