Ukraine War: Outrage in Kyiv after Amnesty accuses it of endangering civilian lives

Kyiv has reacted with fury to an Amnesty International report that accuses it of disregarding civilians in the country’s fight against Russia.

In a report on Thursday, the aid organization said Ukraine’s military had endangered civilians by placing bases and weapons in residential areas, including schools and hospitals, as it sought to push back the Russian invasion.

“Ukraine’s tactics violated international humanitarian law as they turned civilian objects into military targets,” Amnesty said. “The subsequent Russian strikes in populated areas killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the findings Thursday evening.

Amnesty “transfers the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim,” he said in his daily video address, accusing the NGO of “attempting to grant amnesty to the terrorist state” of Russia.

“Aggression against our state is unwarranted, invasive and terrorist,” Zelenskyy added. “If someone writes a report in which the victim and the perpetrator are somehow put on an equal footing, if certain data on the victim is analyzed and the actions of the perpetrator are ignored, this cannot be tolerated.

In its report, based on several weeks of research in the regions of Kharkiv, Donbass and Mykolaiv, Amnesty called on the Ukrainian armed forces to respect the law.

“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian soldiers from respecting international humanitarian law”, declared Agnès Callamard, secretary general of the NGO.

International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to avoid, as far as possible, placing military objectives in or near densely populated areas.

There are other obligations to protect civilians from harm by keeping them away from areas close to military objectives and providing effective warning of attacks that may affect the civilian population.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian soldiers were deployed in towns and populated areas to defend them against Russian attacks, saying it posed a threat to civilians.

“The Russian Federation is committing the crime here,” she said. “Ukraine protects its land. Moscow ignores all the rules of war. And unlike Ukraine, it does not let in international organizations like Amnesty.”

Amnesty researchers inspected strike sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of attack victims, and carried out remote sensing and weapons analysis between April and June as part of their investigation.

They said investigators had found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from residential areas and basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the three southeastern regions.

Dmytro Kouleba, head of Ukrainian diplomacy, said he was “outraged” by Amnesty’s “unfair” accusations.

According to Kouleba, their report creates “a false balance between oppressor and victim, between the country that destroys hundreds and thousands of civilians, cities, territories and [a] country that is desperately defending itself.”

The report claimed that the Ukrainian army could have positioned itself elsewhere to avoid civilian deaths.

“Most of the residential areas where soldiers were located were miles from the front lines and viable alternatives were available that would not have endangered civilians – such as military bases, densely wooded areas or other structures further away from residential areas,” Amnesty researchers said.

In the cases it documented, Amnesty said it did not know if the Ukrainian military asked civilians or helped them to evacuate from nearby buildings, which it said was a “possible precaution”.

However, Amnesty pointed out that Ukraine did not uniformly locate military targets in civilian areas.

In some areas where it claimed Russia had committed war crimes – such as Kharkiv – Amnesty found no evidence that Ukrainian forces had moved into civilian areas.

Russia denies allegations that it committed war crimes in Ukraine.