Ukrainian forces are violating international law and endangering civilians by establishing bases in residential areas, including schools and hospitals, Amnesty International said Thursday.
The defenders’ tactics “in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks”, the rights group said in a new report, and some Russian “war crimes”, notably in the city of Kharkiv, were not unrelated to these tactics.
But Amnesty has documented incidents in which Ukrainian forces appeared to have exposed civilians to danger in 19 towns and villages in the Kharkiv, Donbass and Mykolaiv regions.
“We have documented a tendency for Ukrainian forces to endanger civilians and violate the laws of war when operating in populated areas,” Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard said.
“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian army from respecting international humanitarian law.”
The residential areas where the Ukrainian soldiers were based were miles from the front lines, and “viable alternatives” were available that would not endanger civilians, the report said.
But he said soldiers did not tell civilians to evacuate the areas, despite launching strikes on Russian forces that left them exposed to retaliatory fire.
Amnesty researchers witnessed Ukrainian forces using hospitals as “de facto military bases” in five locations and 22 schools.
Although the schools were closed during the conflict, they were located in civilian neighborhoods.
“We don’t have a say in what the army does, but we pay the price,” said a resident quoted by the report.
The Ukrainian government strongly pushed back against the report, alleging that Amnesty was in cahoots with Kremlin propagandists.
The Ukrainian armed forces are taking all measures to move civilians to safer areas, according to Mykhailo Podolyak, one of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s top aides.
“The only thing that poses a threat to Ukrainians is the (Russian) army of executioners and rapists coming to (Ukraine) to commit genocide,” he tweeted.
“Our defenders protect their nation and their families.”