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

Kyiv has reacted furiously to an Amnesty International report accusing it of brutalizing civilians in the country’s fight against Russia.

In a report released Thursday, the humanitarian organization said the Ukrainian military is endangering civilians by placing bases and weapons in residential areas, including schools and hospitals, in an effort to repel a Russian incursion.

“Ukraine’s tactics violated international humanitarian law as they turned civilian targets into military targets,” Amnesty said. “Following Russian strikes on populated areas resulted in the death of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the findings on Thursday evening.

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

“The aggression against our state is unjustified, predatory and terrorist,” Zelensky added. “If someone writes a report in which the victim and the aggressor are somehow equated, if some data about the victim is analyzed and the actions of the perpetrator are ignored, this unacceptable.”

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

“Being on the defensive does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law,” said Agnès Callamard, general secretary of the NGO.

International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to avoid, to the greatest extent possible, the deployment of military objectives in or near densely populated areas.

There are other obligations to protect civilians from harm by removing them from areas near military installations and providing effective warning of attacks that could affect the civilian population.

Deputy Defense Minister of Ukraine Anna Malyar said that Ukrainian soldiers were deployed in cities and towns to protect them from Russian attack, saying it endangered civilians.

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

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

According to them, investigators found evidence that Ukrainian forces launched strikes from residential areas and were also based in residential buildings in 19 cities and villages in three southeastern regions.

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

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

The report claimed that the Ukrainian military may have deployed elsewhere to avoid civilian deaths.

“Most of the residential areas where the soldiers were stationed were within a few miles of the front lines, and viable alternatives were available that would not endanger civilians, such as military bases, dense forests, or other structures located further from residential areas,” — Amnesty researchers say.

In documented cases, Amnesty has stated that it is not aware if Ukrainian military civilians requested or helped them evacuate from nearby buildings, which it said was a “workable precautionary measure”.

However, Amnesty International pointed out that Ukraine did not always place military installations in residential areas.

In some areas where Russia was alleged to have committed war crimes, such as Kharkiv, Amnesty found no evidence that Ukrainian forces were in residential areas.

Russia denies accusations of committing war crimes in Ukraine.