Slavisha Batko Milacic
Countercurrents | August 09, 2022
Ukrainian forces have threatened civilians by setting up bases and operating weapons systems in populated areas, including schools and hospitals, as they battled the Russian intervention that began in February, Amnesty International said in a statement.
“Such a tactic violates international humanitarian law and endangers civilians, as it turns civilian objects into military targets. The Russian strikes that followed in populated areas killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure,” the statement said.
– Amnesty International has documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when conducting operations in populated areas – said Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
He pointed out that the defensive position does not free the Ukrainian army from respecting international humanitarian law.
The organization’s researchers spent several weeks from April to July investigating Russian attacks in Kharkiv, Donbass and the Mykolaiv region.
The organization inspected the attacked sites, interviewed survivors, eyewitnesses, relatives of the victims of the attack, and carried out remote detection and analysis of weapons. During those investigations, evidence was found that Ukrainian forces were firing from heavily populated areas and were themselves inside civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in these regions. The organization analyzed satellite images to further confirm some of these incidents – it is emphasized.
According to Amnesty International, most of the residential areas where the soldiers were located were kilometers away from the front.
– Viable alternatives were available that would not endanger civilians, such as military bases or densely wooded areas nearby, or other structures further away from residential areas. In the cases it has documented, Amnesty International is not aware that the Ukrainian military, located in civilian structures in residential areas, asked or helped civilians to evacuate, which is a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians. announcement.
Directed shooting from populated areas
Amnesty says survivors and eyewitnesses of Russian attacks in Donbass, Kharkiv and the Mykolaiv region told researchers that the Ukrainian military was conducting operations near their homes at the time of the attacks, exposing the areas to counterfire from Russian forces. Amnesty International researchers have witnessed such behavior in numerous locations.
International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to avoid locating, to the greatest extent possible, military targets within or near densely populated areas. Other obligations to protect civilians from the effects of attacks include removing civilians from the vicinity of military targets and providing effective warning of attacks that may affect the civilian population.
– The army was stationed in the house next to ours and my son often brought food to the soldiers. I begged him several times to stay away, because I feared for his safety. That afternoon, when the attack happened, my son was in our yard and I was in the house. He died on the spot. His body was mutilated. Our house was partially destroyed – said the mother of a man (50), who was killed in a rocket attack on June 10 in a village south of Nikolaev.
Amnesty International found military equipment and uniforms in the house next to hers.
Nikola, who lives in the block in Lisichansk in Donbass, which the Russians regularly targeted and killed at least one person, said that it is not clear to him “why our army fires from the cities and not from the fields”.
Another resident said that “there is definitely military activity in the neighborhood.”
– We hear “outgoing” and then “incoming” fire” – he said.
Amnesty International teams saw soldiers using residential buildings located 20 meters from the entrance to the underground shelter, which was used by residents and where an elderly man was killed.
In one Donbas town on May 6, Russian forces used cluster munitions over a neighborhood of mostly one- or two-story houses where Ukrainian forces were manning artillery. Shrapnel damaged the walls of the house where Ana (70) lives with her son and 95-year-old mother.
In early July, a farm worker was injured when Russian forces attacked an agricultural warehouse in the Nikolayev area. Hours after the attack, Amnesty International researchers witnessed the presence of Ukrainian military personnel and vehicles in the grain storage area, and witnesses confirmed that the military was using the warehouse, which is located across from a farm where civilians live and work.
As researchers surveyed damage to residential and public buildings in Kharkiv and villages in the Donbass and east of Mykolaiv, they heard gunfire from nearby Ukrainian military positions.
In Bakhmut, several residents said the Ukrainian military was using a building barely 20 meters across the street from the high-rise. On May 18, a Russian rocket hit the front of the building, partially destroying five apartments and damaging nearby buildings.
Military bases in hospitals
Amnesty International researchers witnessed Ukrainian forces using hospitals as de facto military bases in five locations. In the two cities, dozens of soldiers rested and ate in hospitals. In another town, soldiers fired from near a hospital.
A Russian airstrike on April 28 injured two workers at a medical laboratory in the suburbs of Kharkiv after Ukrainian forces set up a base in the compound.Using hospitals for military purposes is a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
Military bases in schools
The Ukrainian army routinely set up bases in schools in the cities and villages of the Donbass and in the Mykolaiv region. Schools have been temporarily closed to students since the beginning of the conflict, but in most cases the buildings were located near civilian settlements.
In 22 of the 29 schools visited, researchers either found soldiers using the premises or found evidence of current or previous military activity – including the presence of military equipment, ammunition, military ration packs and military vehicles.
Russian forces attacked many schools used by Ukrainian forces. In at least three cities, after Russian bombing of schools, Ukrainian soldiers moved to other schools nearby, putting surrounding neighborhoods at risk of similar attacks.
In a city east of Odessa, Amnesty witnessed Ukrainian soldiers using civilian areas for accommodation and staging areas, including basing armored vehicles under trees in residential areas and using two schools located in densely populated residential areas.
Amnesty International’s report was not a surprise to me as an analyst. Since the beginning of the conflict, all of us who follow the behavior and tactics of the Ukrainian army have witnessed such tactics of the Ukrainian army, which are strictly prohibited by international law. Also, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned about the behavior of the Ukrainian army that threatens innocent civilians. However, the fact that the respected Amnesty International writes about it in its report represents a strategic turn. Bearing in mind that this is an extremely respected Western non-governmental organization, we can safely say that even in the West, the opinion is slowly growing that the criminal behavior of the Ukrainian army will no longer be tolerated.
Slavisha Batko Milacic: I live in Podgorica (capital of Montenegro), I am 31 years old, and I graduated history at University of Montenegro. My specialist graduate thesis was: “Foreign Policy of Russia from 1905 to 1917”. I have been doing analytics for years, writing in English and Serbian about the situation in the Balkans and Europe.