Amnesty International has said the Ukrainian military is endangering civilian lives by moving into residential areas, in a report rejected by Ukrainian government officials who blame it for Russia’s invasion.
Investigators from the human rights group found that Ukrainian forces were using some schools and hospitals as bases, firing near houses and sometimes living in residential apartments. The report concluded that this meant that, in some cases, Russian forces would respond to an attack or attack residential areas, putting civilians at risk and damaging civilian infrastructure.
He also criticized the Ukrainian military for failing to evacuate civilians who might be caught in the crossfire.
“We have documented a pattern in which Ukrainian forces endanger civilians and violate the laws of war when operating in populated areas,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar accused Amnesty International of “distorting the real picture” and failing to understand the situation on the ground. She said that the Ukrainian soldiers were deployed in cities and populated areas to defend them from the Russian attack.
There is no timeline of events. [in the report]. The Russian Federation is committing the crime here. Ukraine is protecting its land. Moscow ignores all the rules of war. And unlike Ukraine, it doesn’t let in international organizations like Amnesty,” Maliar said.
Speaking at a briefing in Kyiv, Maliar stressed that the Ukrainian armed forces have set up buses to evacuate civilians from the front lines. Some refused to go, despite repeated pleas and offers of transportation to safer regions. Ukraine gave access to outside agencies, including the international criminal court, and carried out its own investigations into abuses by its troops, he said.
Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, said that “any attempt to question the right of Ukrainians to resist genocide, to protect their families and homes…is a perversion” and presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that “it The only one that poses a threat to Ukraine is a Russian army of executioners and rapists coming to Ukraine to commit genocide.”
Amnesty researchers investigated Russian attacks in the Ukrainian regions of Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv between April and July. They found 19 towns and cities from where Ukrainian forces had launched attacks or were basing. In these three regions, Amnesty found five places where hospitals were used “de facto” as bases and, of the 29 schools visited by Amnesty, it concluded that 22 had been used as bases.
Schools closed on the first day of the invasion and students have been learning remotely whenever possible.
The report noted that most of the civilian infrastructure repurposed by the Ukrainian military was located miles from the front line and argued that alternative locations were available.
Maliar argued at the briefing that Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems needed to be based in cities to protect civilian infrastructure and that if Ukrainian forces were only based outside urban settlements, “the Russian armed forces would simply sweep unopposed.”
Ukrainian social media users also responded with examples of when Russian forces have targeted buildings used by civilians, as well as dozens of crimes committed against Ukrainian civilians under Russian occupation.
Guardian reporters have seen at least seven cases in three regions of Ukraine where schools and kindergartens in residential areas were 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 were killed when the blast wave that destroyed a base hit a neighboring residential building.
At a school that was being used as a base by 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 rooms, basements and bedrooms. He said the invasion meant the army had to quickly accommodate masses of new recruits.
Steven Haines, professor of public international law at London’s Greenwich University, who wrote 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 they had necessarily been raped.
“The use of schools, if they are not also used for their primary purpose, is not invariably illegal. Very obviously, the situation in Ukraine counts as exceptional in this regard…so the Ukrainian military is not necessarily violating the guidelines,” he said.
Guardian reporters have also seen three cases 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 houses people displaced by war.
Amnesty acknowledges that international humanitarian law does not prohibit parties from basing themselves in schools that are not in session, but the report emphasized that “the military has an obligation to avoid using schools that are close to houses or apartment buildings full of people. civilians… unless there is a compelling reason. military necessity.
Haines agreed with Amnesty’s assessment. He said it was the responsibility of military commanders on the ground to avoid collateral damage and try to pick out buildings that, if attacked as legitimate military targets, would be hit without putting the lives of nearby civilians at risk.
In an ideal scenario, populated areas would not be part of the war, but the nature of the invasion meant warfare in cities had become inevitable in Ukraine, Haines said.