Activists of the Right Sector movement and their supporters gather outside the parliament
Activists of the Right Sector movement Reuters

A UN investigation said that ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine intentionally seized on exaggerated reports of attacks by Ukrainian nationalists to justify Russian involvement in the region.

The report, which followed two missions by assistant secretary-general for human rights Ivan Simonovic, said that attacks on Russians were "neither systematic nor widespread".

"Photographs of the Maidan [Kiev] protests, greatly exaggerated stories of harassment of ethnic Russians by Ukrainian nationalist extremists, and misinformed reports of them coming armed to persecute ethnic Russians in Crimea, were systematically used to create a climate of fear and insecurity that reflected on support for integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation," it read.

The UN investigation also dismissed fears of the far right Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), which was at the forefront of the Ukraine revolution and was accused of acts of violence against ethnic Russians, as "disproportionate".

The role of Right Sector in post-revolution Ukraine was exploited by Russia to justify its intervention in Crimea by arguing that Kiev had been taken over by fascists and neo-Nazis. Russian president Vladimir Putin said the Maidan uprising had been hijacked by Jew-haters and Nazi sympathisers.

But Right Sector, whose leader Dmytro Yarosh is on Russia's wanted list, dismissed Putin's claims.

The report also draws parallel between what happened in Crimea and events in eastern Ukraine. It condemned excessive force by the Berkut special police that led to the radicalisation of the protest movement.

In Crimea, which was annexed to Russia after a referendum on 16 March, there was harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents, the report added.

"It is widely assessed that while there were some attacks against the ethnic Russian community, these were neither systematic nor widespread," read the report.

"There are also allegations that some participants in the protests and clashes in eastern Ukraine were not from the region, and that some had come from the Russian Federation."

UN received reports of vote-rigging during referendum day.