A report released by Amnesty International on Thursday accused Ukraine’s armed forces of endangering civilians by creating bases in residential areas—a report that the Ukrainian government immediately decried as incomplete, misleading, and dismissive of far worse Russian war crimes during the ongoing war.
The Amnesty report claimed that its team of researchers had found evidence that Ukrainian troops had “launch[ed] strikes from within populated residential areas, as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages” from April to July. The report also claimed that Ukraine had set up “de facto military bases” in at least twenty-two schools and five hospitals along the front line of the war. Although all Ukrainian schools have remained closed since the onset of the Russian invasion in late February, the report observed that these schools tended to be close to Ukrainian towns and cities that remained inhabited by civilians, increasing the potential for collateral damage from inaccurate Russian strikes. Moreover, the stationing of troops inside an active hospital could amount to a war crime, depending on the circumstances.
“Such tactics violate international humanitarian law and endanger civilians, as they turn civilian objects into military targets,” the report read. “The ensuing Russian strikes in populated areas have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure.”
“International humanitarian law requires the parties to a conflict to avoid locating … military objectives within or near densely populated areas,” it continued.
Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, indicated that the report’s observations represented “a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas.” She added that “being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”
The Ukrainian government immediately condemned the Amnesty report, arguing that it had been “unfair” to the Ukrainian military during its attempt to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity against a Russian attack.
“The behavior of Amnesty International is not about finding and reporting the truth to the world,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba claimed in a statement posted to the foreign ministry’s Facebook page. “It is about creating a false equivalence—between the offender and the victim, between the country that destroys hundreds and thousands of civilians…and a country that is desperately defending itself.”
Officials in Moscow praised the report, arguing that it had justified their previous assertions about Ukrainian war crimes. “We’re talking about it all the time, calling the actions of Ukraine’s armed forces the tactics of using the civilian population as a ‘human shield,’” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on her Telegram channel.
However, the report also condemned the Kremlin’s aggression, noting in its opening paragraph that Ukraine’s alleged violations “in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks, which have killed and injured countless civilians.”
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.