Ukrainian forces are violating international law and endangering civilians by establishing bases in residential areas, including schools and hospitals, Amnesty International said Thursday, prompting a furious response from Kiev.
Kiev said the human rights group was drawing a “false equivalence” between the actions of the Russian invading forces and the Ukrainians defending their homeland.
Amnesty sought to “amnesty the terrorist state and shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday in his daily speech.
“There is no condition, even hypothetical, under which any Russian attack on Ukraine becomes justified. The aggression against our state is unmotivated, invasive and terrorist.
“If someone makes a report where the victim and the offender are supposedly the same in some way, if some data about the victim is analyzed and the offender’s actions at the same time are ignored, then this cannot be tolerated,” he added. .
Amnesty said in its report that the tactics “in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks” and some Russian “war crimes”, including in the city of Kharkiv, were unrelated.
But it listed incidents in which Ukrainian forces appeared to have exposed civilians to danger in 19 towns and villages in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions.
“We have documented a pattern in which Ukrainian forces put civilians at risk and violate the laws of war when operating in populated areas,” said Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard.
“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian army from respecting international humanitarian law”.
The residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers settled were miles away from the front and “viable alternatives” were available that would not endanger civilians, the report said.
But he said the soldiers had not told civilians to evacuate the areas, despite launching attacks on Russian forces who had exposed them to retaliatory fire.
Amnesty researchers have seen Ukrainian forces use hospitals as “de facto military bases” in five locations and 22 schools.
Although the schools were closed during the conflict, they were located in civilian neighborhoods.
“We have no say in what the military does, but we pay the price,” said one resident.
The Ukrainian government has harshly rejected the report, with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba labeling the allegations as “unfair”.
“This behavior of Amnesty International does not consist in finding and reporting the truth to the world, but in creating a false equivalence – between the perpetrator and the victim, between the country destroying hundreds and thousands of civilians, cities, territories and a Country that desperately defends itself, “he said.
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov called the report a “perversion” as he said it questioned the right of Ukrainians to defend their country.
Chief presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak insisted that the Ukrainian military take all steps to move civilians to safer areas and suggested that Amnesty was complicit in spreading the Kremlin’s disinformation.
“The only thing that poses a threat to Ukrainians is a (Russian) army of executioners and rapists who come to (Ukraine) to commit genocide,” he tweeted.