Anti-government activists in Ukraine have alleged that some of their number have been harassed, kidnapped, and tortured either with the knowledge or at the request of the Kiev government.
According to the Daily Telegraph, which cited opposition claims, 36 activists have been reported missing since December 1.
The reports come as Ukraine enters a third month of political turmoil and crisis, with pro-European protesters calling for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, who refused to sign a political and economic treaty with Brussels this past November, opting instead to agree to a massive bailout offered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this week Yanukovych accepted the resignation of his Prime Minister, dismissed the rest of his government, and convinced the Ukrainian Parliament to repeal anti-protest legislation and offer demonstrators conditional amnesty. However, the demonstrations, centered in the capital's Independence Square, have continued.
Meanwhile, opposition activists claim that Yankovych's government is carrying out a hidden offensive against them. It starts with harassment, with names, address, and birthdates appearing online. This master database also includes the make and model of several of the protesters' cars, making them easy targets for torching in the middle of the night. The kidnappings are the next step.
The most notorious case has been that of Dmytro Bulatov, who disappeared on January 22, and was located eight days later in a village outside Kiev. He claimed he was beaten, crucified, and had his ear sliced off and his face cut. Another protester, Yuri Verbytsky, was found dead earlier this month in a forest near the capital with his hands bound behind his back and a bag over his head.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that Ukraine, confronting a political crisis and massive anti-government protests, should be free to align with Europe if it wants and not feel coerced by more powerful neighbors such as Russia.
"Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine," Kerry said at a security conference in Munich. "While there are unsavory elements in the streets in any chaotic situation, the vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe, prosperous country."
In a meeting later with opposition leaders, Kerry affirmed U.S. support for "the democratic, European aspirations" of Ukrainians and the leaders' efforts "to speak out to defend democracy and choice," according to the State Department. He urged the opposition to keep up talks with the government.
The department said Kerry also told Ukraine's foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara, to release political prisoners, address the deteriorating human rights situation, safeguard democratic principles and form a "technical government" that can address the country's economic problems and European aspirations of its citizens.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.