Kiev has reacted furiously to an Amnesty International report accusing the country of closely following civilians in the country’s fight against Russia.
In a report published Thursday, the humanitarian organization claimed that the Ukrainian military has put civilians at risk by placing bases and weapons in residential areas — including schools and hospitals — to fend off the Russian invasion.
“Ukraine’s tactics have violated international humanitarian law because they turned civilian objects into military targets,” Amnesty said. “The subsequent Russian attacks in populated areas have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the findings Thursday evening.
Amnesty “transfers responsibility from the aggressor to the victim,” he said in his daily video speech, accusing the NGO of “attempting to grant amnesty to the terrorist state” Russia.
“The aggression against our state is unjustified, invasive and terroristic,” Zelenskyy added. actions of the perpetrator ignored, this cannot be tolerated.”
In its report, based on several weeks of investigations in the regions of Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv, Amnesty called on the Ukrainian armed forces to comply with the law.
“The defensive position does not absolve the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law,” said Agnès Callamard, the NGO’s secretary general.
International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to avoid locating, as far as possible, military targets in or near densely populated areas.
There are other obligations to protect civilians from harm by removing them from areas near military targets and by effectively warning of attacks that could affect the civilian population.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian soldiers were deployed in cities and populated areas to protect them from Russian attacks, saying it posed a danger to civilians.
“The Russian Federation is committing the crime here,” she said. “Ukraine protects its country. Moscow ignores all rules of war. And unlike Ukraine, it does not allow international organizations like Amnesty.”
Amnesty investigators inspected strike sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of attack victims, and conducted remote sensing and weapons analysis in their investigation between April and June.
They said investigators have found evidence of Ukrainian troops launching attacks from residential areas and based in civilian buildings in 19 cities and towns in the three southeastern regions.
Dmytro Kouleba, head of Ukrainian diplomacy, said he was “outraged” at Amnesty’s “unfair” accusations.
According to Kouleba, their report creates “a false balance between the oppressor and the victim, between the country that has hundreds and thousands of citizens, cities, territories and [a] country desperately defending itself.”
The report claimed that the Ukrainian military could have positioned itself elsewhere to avoid civilian deaths.
“Most residential areas where soldiers were located were miles from front lines, and viable alternatives were available that would not have endangered civilians — such as military bases, densely wooded areas or other structures further from residential areas,” Amnesty researchers said.
In the cases it documented, Amnesty said it was not sure whether the Ukrainian military had asked civilians or helped them evacuate nearby buildings, which it said was a “viable precaution”.
Amnesty pointed out, however, that Ukraine had not uniformly located military targets in civilian areas.
In certain areas where it claimed Russia had committed war crimes – such as Kharkov – Amnesty found no evidence that Ukrainian troops had settled in civilian areas.
Russia denies charges of committing war crimes in Ukraine.