Amnesty International said Ukraine’s military was endangering civilian lives by moving into residential areas, in a report dismissed by Ukrainian government officials as blaming it for the Russian invasion.
Researchers from the human rights group found that Ukrainian forces used schools and hospitals as bases, fired near houses and sometimes lived in residential apartments. The report concluded that this meant in some cases that Russian forces would respond to an attack or target residential areas, putting civilians at risk and damaging civilian infrastructure.
He also blamed the Ukrainian army for not evacuating civilians who might be caught in the crossfire.
“We have documented a tendency for Ukrainian forces to endanger civilians and violate the laws of war when operating in populated areas,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
However, the head of Amnesty Ukraine’s office, Oksana Pokalchuk, wrote on Facebook that her operation disagreed with the report. She said they were excluded from the pre-publication process when they complained the report was based on incomplete evidence compiled by overseas colleagues.
“Our team’s arguments about the inadmissibility and incompleteness of these documents have not been considered,” Pokalchuk wrote. “Representatives of the Ukrainian office did everything to prevent the publication of this material.”
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar accused Amnesty of “distorting reality” and failing to understand the situation on the ground. She said Ukrainian soldiers were deployed in towns and populated areas to defend them against Russian attacks.
“There is no timeline of events [in the report]. The Russian Federation is committing the crime here. Ukraine protects its territory. Moscow ignores all the rules of war. And unlike Ukraine, it does not let in international organizations like Amnesty,” Maliar said.
Speaking at a briefing in Kyiv, Maliar pointed out that the Ukrainian armed forces had set up buses to evacuate civilians from the front line. Some have refused to leave, despite repeated appeals and offers of transportation to safer areas. Ukraine provided access to outside agencies, including the International Criminal Court, and conducted its own investigations into abuses by its troops, she said.
Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, said “any attempt to challenge the right of Ukrainians to resist genocide, to protect their families and their homes…is a perversion” and presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said tweeted that “the only thing that poses a threat to Ukraine is a Russian army of executioners and rapists coming to Ukraine to commit genocide”.
Amnesty researchers investigated Russian strikes in the Ukrainian regions of Kharkiv, Donbass and Mykolaiv between April and July. They found 19 villages and towns from where Ukrainian forces had launched strikes or were based. In these three regions, Amnesty found five locations where hospitals were “de facto” used as bases, and of 29 schools visited by Amnesty, it concluded that 22 had been used as bases.
Schools were closed on the first day of the invasion and students learned remotely, where possible.
The report noted that most of the civilian infrastructure repurposed by the Ukrainian military was located miles from the front lines and argued that other locations were available.
Maliar argued during the briefing that Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems should be based in cities to protect civilian infrastructure and that if Ukrainian forces were only based outside urban settlements, “the Russian armed forces would go all out simply unopposed”.
Ukrainian social media users also responded with examples of Russian forces hitting buildings used by civilians, as well as dozens of crimes committed against Ukrainian civilians under Russian occupation.
Guardian journalists have seen at least seven cases in three regions of Ukraine where schools and nurseries in residential areas have been used as bases by the Ukrainian military. Five of the schools and nurseries visited by the Guardian had been bombed. In each case, several surrounding buildings were damaged in the attack.
In one case, in the Donetsk region, at least three people died when the wave of the explosion that destroyed a base hit a nearby residential building.
At a school that served as a base for Ukrainian forces in central Ukraine, the commander said schools and kindergartens across Ukraine were bombed because they served as bases. The commander said the schools provide the necessary facilities: showers, multiple toilets, large kitchens, dining rooms, basements and bedrooms. He said the invasion forced the army to quickly take in masses of new recruits.
Steven Haines, professor of public international law at the University of Greenwich in London, who drafted non-legally binding guidelines on the military use of schools and universities during conflict – which 100 states, including Ukraine, have endorsed – said Ukraine’s actions did not necessarily violate them.
“The use of schools – if they are not also used for their primary purpose – is not always illegal. Obviously, the situation in Ukraine is considered exceptional in this regard…so the Ukrainian military is not necessarily violating the guidelines,” he said.
Guardian journalists also saw three examples of empty schools that have been repurposed 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 hosts people displaced by war.
Amnesty acknowledges that international humanitarian law does not prohibit parties from moving into schools that are not in session, but the report stresses that “the military has an obligation to avoid using schools that are near houses or apartment buildings full of civilians…unless there is a force majeure. military need.
Haines agreed with Amnesty’s assessment. He said it was the responsibility of military commanders on the ground to avoid collateral damage and to try to choose buildings which, if attacked as legitimate military targets, would be hit without risking life. nearby civilians.
In an ideal scenario, populated areas would not be part of the war, but the nature of the invasion meant that urban warfare had become inevitable in Ukraine, Haines said.