Ukrainian forces endanger civilians by using houses and schools

POKROVSK, Ukraine –

Ukrainian forces have exposed civilians to Russian attack at times by setting up camp in schools, residential buildings and other locations in populated areas, according to The Associated Press and a new report by Amnesty International.

AP journalists repeatedly saw attack sites in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, and communities in the eastern Donetsk region in recent weeks where Ukrainian fighters, their vehicles or other items such as ammunition were still present.

In two locations, the AP was told a soldier or soldiers had been killed. In a third, emergency workers prevented the media from filming victims of a Russian strike in a residential building, which was unusual; locals said that military personnel had been staying there.

In a report released Thursday, Amnesty International said its investigators between April and July “found evidence that Ukrainian forces launched attacks from populated residential areas, as well as stationing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages” in three regions of the country.

Amnesty also said it found Ukrainian forces using hospitals as military bases in five locations, which the human rights group called “a clear violation of international humanitarian law”. The report noted that “international humanitarian law requires that parties to a conflict ‘avoid locating, to the greatest extent possible, military objectives within or near densely populated areas.’

Fighters must also remove civilians from the “vicinity of military objectives” and provide warnings of possible attacks, the report said, adding that “viable alternatives existed that would not endanger civilians, such as military bases or densely packed areas.” nearby wooded areas, or other structures further away”. away from residential areas.

At the same time, its authors emphasized that “the Ukrainian military practice of locating military targets inside populated areas in no way justifies indiscriminate Russian attacks.”

Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly asked the remaining residents of the Donetsk region to evacuate, but starting over elsewhere is not so easy. Tens of thousands of people who fled their homes since Russia’s invasion have returned after being left without support or feeling unwelcome.

The AP reported last week that an evacuee was killed in a missile attack two days after returning home to the Donetsk city of Pokrovsk. Neighbors expressed anger that Ukrainian fighters had established a base in their residential area on the outskirts of the city. As AP reporters looked at the missile crater, a uniformed fighter approached from the surrounding terrain and questioned his presence.

In the town of Kramatorsk, closer to the front line, residents told the AP after an attack on a residential area that soldiers had been staying there. The AP saw soldiers going in and out of a Kramatorsk apartment building hit by another attack.

And in Kharkiv, the AP saw soldiers and military vehicles at a teaching university that was attacked. Soldiers and supplies were also present at a school for the disabled where a Russian attack left two craters in the schoolyard.

Aside from eyewitness accounts, Amnesty International relied on satellite imagery and remote sensing. His investigators heard gunshots from nearby Ukrainian positions while examining damaged residential areas in the Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and Donbas regions. The Donbas region, which consists of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, is where the heaviest fighting in the war has taken place since April.

The mother of a man killed in a rocket attack in a village near Mykolaiv told investigators that Ukrainian forces had stayed in a house next door to hers. Investigators found military uniforms and equipment there, according to the report.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry has not responded to the findings, the human rights group said. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment to the AP on the Amnesty report.

Russian and pro-Kremlin state media have widely quoted the report, the findings of which align somewhat with the official Moscow narrative. Russia has justified attacks on civilian areas by claiming that Ukrainian fighters are setting up firing positions there.

“We are talking about it all the time, calling the actions of the Ukrainian armed forces tactics of using the civilian population as a ‘human shield,'” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram. about the report.

Ukrainian soldiers have also routinely set up shop in schools, Amnesty said. Although Ukraine’s schools have been closed since the Russian invasion, most are near residential neighborhoods. Investigators from the human rights group found soldiers or evidence of military activity in 22 of the 29 schools visited.

“In at least three towns, after the Russian shelling of schools, Ukrainian soldiers moved into other nearby schools, putting surrounding neighborhoods at risk of similar attacks,” the report says.

The full extent of the problem is unknown. A separate report last month by Human Rights Watch identified three occasions when Ukrainian forces positioned themselves between residential houses and four occasions when Russian forces established military bases in populated areas of Ukraine.

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