Amnesty International said the Ukrainian military is putting civilians’ lives at risk by stationing themselves in residential areas, in Report Representatives of the Ukrainian government refused to blame her for the Russian invasion.
Human rights group researchers found that Ukrainian forces were using some schools and hospitals as bases, shooting near homes and sometimes living in apartments. In some cases, the report concluded, this means that Russian forces will respond to an attack or target residential areas – endangering civilians and damaging civilian infrastructure.
She also criticized the Ukrainian military for not evacuating civilians who could be caught in the crossfire.
“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces endangering civilians and violating the laws of war when operating in populated areas,” said Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
However, the head of Amnesty’s Ukraine office, Oksana Pokalchuk, wrote on Facebook that her operation was inconsistent with the report. She said they were denied a pre-release process when they complained that the report was based on incomplete evidence collected by foreign colleagues.
“The arguments of our team about the inadmissibility and incompleteness of this material were not taken into account,” Pokalchuk wrote. “Representatives of the Ukrainian office did everything in their power to prevent the publication of this material.”
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar accused Amnesty of “distorting the real picture” and failing to understand the situation on the ground. It said Ukrainian soldiers were deployed in cities and populated areas to defend them from a Russian attack.
There is no chronology of events [in the report]. The Russian Federation is committing crime here. Ukraine protects its territory. Moscow ignores all the rules of war. Maliar said, unlike Ukraine, it does not allow entry to international organizations such as Amnesty International.
Speaking at a press briefing in Kyiv, Maliar stressed that the Ukrainian armed forces had sent buses to evacuate civilians from the front line. Some refused to go, despite repeated pleas and offers to move to safer areas. It said Ukraine had allowed access to outside agencies, including the International Criminal Court, and had conducted its own investigations into abuses by its forces.
“Any attempt to discredit the right of Ukrainians to resist the genocide and protect their families and homes… is an aberration,” said Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister. “The only thing that poses a threat to Ukraine is a Russian army of incoming executioners and rapists,” Presidential Adviser Mikhailo Podolyak tweeted. to Ukraine to commit genocide.”
Amnesty International researchers investigated Russian strikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine between April and July. They found 19 villages and towns where Ukrainian forces launched strikes or were stationed. In these three areas, Amnesty International found five sites where “de facto” hospitals were used as bases, and of the 29 schools visited by Amnesty, they concluded that 22 schools were used as bases.
Schools were closed on the first day of the invasion and pupils were now learning remotely wherever possible.
The report noted that most of the civilian infrastructure reused by the Ukrainian military was located within kilometers of the front lines and said alternative sites were available.
Maliar argued in the briefing that Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems should be stationed in cities to protect civilian infrastructure and if Ukrainian forces were only stationed outside urban settlements “the Russian armed forces would simply overwhelm unopposed.”
Ukrainian social media users also responded with examples of a time when Russian forces struck buildings used by civilians, as well as dozens of crimes committed against Ukrainian civilians under Russian occupation.
Guardian reporters have witnessed at least seven cases in three regions of Ukraine where the Ukrainian military used schools and nurseries in residential areas as bases. Five of the schools and nurseries visited by the Guardian were bombed. In each case, several surrounding buildings were damaged in the attack.
In one case, in the Donetsk region, at least three people were killed when the blast wave that destroyed the base of a neighboring apartment building hit.
In a school that was being used as a base for Ukrainian forces in central Ukraine, the commander said that schools and kindergartens across Ukraine were being bombed because they were being used as bases. The commander said that the schools provided the necessary facilities: showers, multiple toilets, large kitchens, dining areas, basements and rooms. The invasion, he said, meant the army had to absorb crowds of new recruits quickly.
Stephen Haines, Professor of Public International Law at University of Greenwich, London who drafted the draft Non-legally binding guidelines On the military use of schools and universities during conflicts – which have been endorsed by 100 countries, including Ukraine – she said Ukraine’s actions did not necessarily break it.
“The use of schools – if they are not also used for their primary purpose – is not always illegal. It is very clear that the situation in Ukraine is exceptional in this respect… So the Ukrainian military is not necessarily violating the guidelines,” he said.
Guardian reporters have also witnessed three cases of empty schools that have been reused for civilian use since the war, such as a school in the Kharkiv region that is now used as a humanitarian aid center and a school in Kyiv that shelters people displaced by the war.
Amnesty International acknowledges that international humanitarian law does not prevent parties from stationing in schools that are not in session, but the report stressed that “militaries are obligated to avoid using schools near homes or apartment buildings filled with civilians…unless there is a compelling ‘military need’.” .
It is the responsibility of military commanders on the ground to avoid collateral damage and to try to select buildings that, if attacked as legitimate military targets, would be bombed without risking civilian lives nearby, Haines said.
In an ideal scenario, Haines said, populated areas would not be part of the war, but the nature of the invasion meant that city war became inevitable in Ukraine.