By building bases and using weapons systems in densely populated residential areas, including schools and hospitals, Ukrainian troops are endangering civilians while defending their country against Russia's invasion, Amnesty International stated in a much-criticised report.
By setting up military bases in residential areas, the Ukrainian troops are violating international humanitarian law and endangering the civilian population by turning civilian objects into military targets; the ensuing Russian strikes have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure.
"We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian troops endangering civilians and violating the law of war when operating in populated areas," Agnès Callamard, Secretary-General of Amnesty International, said in a press release.
"The fact that the country has to defend itself does not absolve the Ukrainian military of its obligations under international humanitarian law," she added.
In certain other areas, in which Amnesty International concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, such as in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organisation did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas that were unlawfully targeted by the Russian military.
Between April and July 2022, Amnesty researchers spent several weeks inspecting Russian attacks in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions, where it inspected the attack sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of attack victims, and conducted remote sensing and weapons analysis.
Throughout these investigations, evidence was found of Ukrainian troops launching (counter) strikes from inhabited residential areas and setting up military bases in civilian buildings in 19 cities and villages, instead of what Amnesty called "viable alternatives" such as military bases or densely wooded areas nearby, or other structures further away from residential areas.
However, specialist in urban warfare studies John Spencer also told the New York Times that these suggested "alternative" are not realistic for Ukrainian forces. "To say, ‘Don’t be in the urban areas’ does not make sense. The Russians are advancing to take cities. Ukrainians have to go into defence in the cities to stop that from happening."
"If the Ukrainians moved out into the open and brought the fight to the Russian military, the war would have already ended – they would have all died," Spencer said.
According to the Amnesty International report, survivors and witnesses of Russian strikes in the Donbas, Kharkiv and Mykolaiv regions told the organisation's researchers that the Ukrainian military had been operating near their homes around the time of the strikes, exposing the areas to retaliatory fire from Russian forces. International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to avoid locating, to the maximum extent possible, military objectives within or near densely populated areas. "The Ukrainian government must immediately ensure that it places its troops away from populated areas, or it must evacuate civilians from areas where the army is active," said Callamard. "Armies should never use hospitals to wage war and should only use schools or homes as a last resort if there are no viable alternatives."
He added: “If the Ukrainians moved out into the open and brought the fight to the Russian military, the war would have already ended — they would have all died.”— John Spencer (@SpencerGuard) August 4, 2022
- Zelenskyy orders civilian evacuation of Donbas region
- Sexual violence as a weapon of war in Ukraine cannot go unpunished, says De Croo
- Ukraine: Council of Europe denounces 'staggering' human rights violations