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Amnesty International released a report Thursday accusing the Ukrainian military of stationing its troops and artillery near hospitals, schools and residential buildings in ways that could amount to war crimes. The international human rights organization says it spent two months in Ukraine interviewing locals and gathering physical evidence to compile the report.
“There were viable alternatives that did not endanger civilians, such as military bases or densely wooded areas nearby, or other structures further away from residential areas,” the report reads.
Responding to questions about Amnesty’s findings, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukraine “regularly conducts civilian evacuations from conflict areas.” Thousands of people are unable or unwilling to flee some of the cities along the front.
But Amnesty International says Ukrainian troops are taking refuge alongside civilians away from active conflict zones and that Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian military posts have caused the deaths of several civilians in the vicinity.
Donatella Rovera, author of the report, says that situations like these arise on all fronts of any war and that it is up to the Ukrainians to address the concerns as soon as possible.
“I think the level of self-censorship on this issue has been quite extraordinary,” Rovera said.
Like Amnesty International, NPR reporters also witnessed some evidence of military presence near bombed civilian areas.
Ukrainian officials said their defensive stance against Russia justifies all tactics used so far and that the report unfairly implicates Ukraine in war crimes. One of the top advisers to the president of Ukraine even accused the human rights group of being Russian propagandists promoting disinformation.
“Please stop creating a false reality where everyone is equally responsible [for the war]Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a video broadcast on television. He has joined a chorus of others, including the Ukrainian office of Amnesty International, in saying that foreign observers should only blame Russia for any threats against civilians.
Amnesty International has produced dozens of reports on Russian war crimes. Rovera said he personally investigated when hundreds of tortured bodies were found on the outskirts of Kiev after Russia withdrew from the area.
“To say that issuing a four-page press release is comparable to the hundreds of pages we’ve been publishing since the Russian invasion … that’s simply not true,” Rovera said.
The report notes that reports of Russia’s illegal use of weapons in civilian areas, including cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines, should provide Ukraine with one more reason to keep its troops away from civilians.
Amnesty International has given the Ukrainian Defense Ministry six days to respond to specific evidence on the Ukrainian military presence in civilian areas. The Ukrainian office of the human rights group says there was not enough time.
Rovera says he understands that Ukrainians are, in many ways, overwhelmed and defeated, but that the credibility of the Ukrainian’s high moral standard requires full adherence to international law, even if it puts his military at a tactical disadvantage.