Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday that Ukrainian forces have put civilians at risk by setting up bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, as they try to fend off the Russian invasion that began in February.
She said that such tactics violate international humanitarian law and put civilians at risk, as they turn civilian objects into military objectives.
“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces endangering civilians and violating the laws of war when operating in populated areas,” said Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “Being on the defensive does not excuse the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”
The statement added that not every Russian attack documented by Amnesty International followed this pattern, saying:
In some of the other locations where Amnesty International has concluded that Russia committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization has not found evidence of Ukrainian forces being present in civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military. Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian strikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions.
Adviser to the Ukrainian president, Mykhailo Podolak, criticized the Amnesty report, accusing Moscow of trying to “discredit the Ukrainian armed forces in the eyes of Western societies”. “It is a shame that an organization like Amnesty International is involved in this campaign of disinformation and propaganda,” he added in a tweet on Twitter.
“The only thing that poses a threat to the Ukrainians is the (Russian) army of torturers and rapists coming to (Ukraine) to commit genocide,” he said on Twitter.
Amnesty said that during the investigations, researchers found evidence that Ukrainian forces launched strikes from within populated residential areas, as well as stationed in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in those areas.
According to the statement, most of the residential areas where the soldiers stationed themselves are kilometers from the front lines.
Amnesty International said there are viable alternatives available that will not put civilians at risk – such as military bases or nearby densely populated areas, or other buildings away from residential areas.
She also said that in relation to the cases it had documented, Amnesty International was not aware that the Ukrainian military who had stationed themselves in civilian buildings in residential areas had requested or assisted civilians to evacuate nearby buildings, which amounted to not taking all feasible precautions to protect civilians.
Podolyak said the protection of civilians is the priority of the Ukrainian forces. “Our defenders are protecting their nation and their families. People’s lives are the priority for Ukraine, which is why we are evacuating residents from frontline cities.
“Ukraine strictly adheres to all laws of war and international humanitarian law,” Podolyak said in a statement. “The absolute priority of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is to preserve the life and health of every citizen in the event of Russian barbaric aggression. Therefore, we are constantly taking all measures to help Ukrainians move from the area of active hostilities to safer ones.
Russia is the main culprit, Podolak said. Experts found that the patterns of violence committed by Russian forces in Ukraine fit the classification of crimes against humanity.
Russia adheres to the methods of mass terrorism and ignores any rules and laws, trying to destroy civilian infrastructure and civilians as much as possible. “There is and cannot be any justification for that,” he said. “We regularly see how the Russian army bombards residential areas 500 km from the front, deliberately killing civilians and children.”
CNN’s Olga Vojtovic contributed reporting for this post.