"Today I stand before the court to ask for the protection of the basic human rights of the Ukrainian people," Kiev's deputy foreign minister Olena Zerkal told the International Court of Justice in The Hague. "Thousands of innocent Ukrainians have already suffered deadly attacks," she said. "Today I stand before the world to seek protection for the Ukraine from the Russian Federation," she added, saying that all Kiev was seeking was "a measure of stability and calm in an unpredictable and dangerous situation."
Ukraine's representatives are asking the ICJ to impose emergency measures ordering Russia to stop its alleged funnelling of money, weapons and personnel into the east, and to halt what it called "discrimination" against minorities in Russian-occupied Crimea. It is also seeking compensation for attacks on civilians in nearly three years of conflict.
Moscow has long denied arming the rebels and has said the case is motivated only "by political interests". It has also claimed that Kiev has "shown a lack of will to hold a concrete dialogue." Ukraine lodged its case against its former Soviet master at the ICJ in mid-January, saying it had protested for several years against Moscow's alleged financing of separatist rebels battling Ukrainian government forces. Kiev says that Moscow has "largely failed" to respond to its efforts to reach a resolution in the dispute and that "further negotiations would be futile."
Ukraine now "respectfully requests the court to adjudge and declare that the Russian Federation bears international responsibility by virtue of its sponsorship of terrorism... for the acts of terrorism committed by its proxies in Ukraine," it said in papers before the court.
Nearly three years of conflict have claimed about 10,000 lives in eastern Ukraine - and led to Russia's seizure of Ukraine's southern peninsula of Crimea in 2014 - pushing ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Rare talks between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the past month have proved "fruitless", the Ukrainian presidency said in a statement Thursday.
Poroshenko hailed the start of the four-days of hearings Monday, calling it "a historic moment" on his Facebook page. "The truth is stronger than weapons!" he wrote.
The hearings come after an upsurge in the violence which killed 35 people in early February, centred around the government-held town of Avdiivka near the rebel bastion of Donetsk.