Ukraine: Russian assault kills fleeing civilians

On March 6, 2022, for several hours, Russian forces shelled an intersection on a road that hundreds of civilians were using to flee the advance of the Russian army in northern Ukraine towards Kyiv, Human Rights Watch said. today. The repeated nature of the attacks, which the government says killed at least eight civilians, suggests that Russian forces violated their obligations under international humanitarian law not to carry out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks that harm civilians, and did not take all possible measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Witnesses said a dozen members of the Ukrainian security forces and at least two military vehicles were at the intersection during the attack, but they were vastly outnumbered by the large number of fleeing civilians. Some security forces helped civilians carry their luggage and children. Witnesses described hearing and seeing exchanges of fire between Ukrainian and Russian forces not in the immediate vicinity of the intersection, but at some distance. While other witnesses could not be specific about the location of the firefights, The New York Times, which had reporters at the scene, reported that Ukrainian forces fired mortar shells at Russian forces from a military position about 180 meters from the intersection. Nevertheless, explosive projectiles fired by Russian forces repeatedly hit the intersection.

“Dozens of civilians fleeing northern Ukraine to escape Russian bombardment and potential occupation have found themselves victims of renewed Russian aggression,” said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. . “The hour-long bombardment of a site with evacuated civilians raises concerns that Russian forces may be carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, and not taking all possible precautions to minimize civilian casualties.”

Human Rights Watch research and analysis suggests that the projectiles used in the bombardment may have been observed, meaning that Russian forces were likely tracking or “watching” where they landed, and that Russian forces had information that they could use to adjust targeting. If so, persistent shelling that injures civilians rather than hitting larger military objectives some distance away indicates potential recklessness or deliberate action.

Human Rights Watch interviewed seven people who were present during the March 6 attacks, including five linked to the media and two civilians who were evacuating, and analyzed video of a projectile hitting the intersection and six photographs of the aftermath. According to the local mayor, eight people were kill, including two children. Human Rights Watch gathered information about four people killed in the bombing, including two children, from testimonies and analysis of photos and videos.

From around 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. local time, witnesses described continuous shelling on the P30 road, which connects northwestern Ukraine to Kyiv. Until March 5, civilians had taken the train from Irpin station to Kyiv to escape the fighting, but the train tracks were damaged in a attack That day. As a result, on March 6, hundreds of civilians fleeing areas north of Kyiv took the P30 road to reach Kyiv, from where they hoped to continue their journey.

The intersection is six kilometers from the city limits of Kyiv, south of Irpin, just opposite St. George Ukrainian Orthodox Church and a statue commemorating those who fought in World War II. The intersection is also just south of a bridge that Ukrainian forces destroyed to deter the Russian advance.

Before and during the attack, witnesses described a steady stream of civilians walking over the rubble of the destroyed bridge to cross the Irpin River. People then gathered at the intersection to board buses or cars heading for central Kyiv, or continued walking.

At the start of the assault, a witness, who was at the intersection from 9:30 a.m. to noon, said a projectile hit the intersection or the surrounding area every 10 minutes. “The Russians were raining mortar shells on the area,” he said. “People were running in all directions to escape the shelling.” He said he saw a few Ukrainian soldiers in the area and two trucks that appeared to be used by security forces, but no other significant military equipment. In one video of the attack which has been widely publicized online, a dark green vehicle is seen which may have been a Ukrainian military vehicle.

A civilian, who passed through the area around 10:30 a.m., said he saw two armored vehicles, one with a machine gun mounted on it, and about eight members of the security forces. By the way, he witnessed the detonation of six projectiles from the directions of Irpin and Stoyanka, where the Russian troops were.

Another civilian who passed by at 10 a.m. estimated that she saw five incoming projectiles explode and said she heard a sixth explode just as she boarded a windowless van. She said the driver pressed the gas just as the explosion happened next to the van, driving off with the rear doors open. Both said they did not see Ukrainian forces in the immediate vicinity or in the immediate vicinity firing at Russian positions at any time during their passage.

At 1:29 p.m., local online media Donbas Frontliner job a video and six photographs on his Instagram account, which Human Rights Watch saw again. The video, which was filmed by a freelance journalist working for the New York Times, shows an armed member of the Citizen Volunteer Territorial Defense Forces – identifiable by his yellow armband – standing next to a fence on the P30 road. At least a dozen people are pulling suitcases and driving pets. Suddenly, a hiss is heard, then a flash and a loud explosion. Seconds later, the member of the Territorial Defense Forces is thrown to the ground and is rescued. Two men in uniform rush towards four other bodies on the ground, then a third person standing nearby shouts: “Medic, medic!

One of the photographs shows the scene near St. George’s Church with the four plainclothes bodies on the ground, surrounded by two pieces of luggage and a crate for a small animal. Another photograph shows what appears to be a dead man on a stretcher next to a supermarket car park opposite the church. Human Rights Watch could not confirm whether this photo was taken at that time or during a previous round of shelling in Irpin.

Maxim Dondyuk, a freelance journalist, arrived at the site around noon and stayed in the area for about two hours. He said Russian forces were firing projectiles at the intersection and surrounding areas every 5 to 10 minutes. When an explosion occurred around 2 p.m., a metal fragment struck Dondyuk in the right shoulder, injuring him. He said civilians continued to arrive on foot from the direction of the destroyed bridge, then piled into cars, trying to head south. He also said the only military presence he had seen were about a dozen members of Ukraine’s security forces.

Over the past few days, Russian and Ukrainian forces have held talks to discuss opening safe escape routes for civilians in areas of Ukraine affected by heavy fighting, but those efforts have failed. On March 3, during the second round of talks, the two parties Agreed in principle to establish humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of “peaceful” civilians and the delivery of medicine and food to the areas most affected by the conflict.

However, as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) pointed out, the absence of a detailed and working agreement meant that the shelling continued in places despite the planned evacuation attempts, and that the authorities had to call them off. No specific agreement has been reached between the parties so far regarding a temporary ceasefire or a humanitarian corridor for civilians seeking to flee northern Ukraine, such as those caught in Russian shelling just outside Kyiv on March 6.

The laws of war require parties to a conflict to take constant care during military operations to spare the civilian population and to “take all feasible precautions” to avoid or minimize harm to civilians and damage to civilian property. civilian character. These precautions include doing everything possible to verify that the objects of attack are military objectives and not civilians or civilian objects and giving “effective advance warning” to civilians when circumstances permit. .

The parties to the conflict must take all possible measures to remove the civilian population from the vicinity of fighting or military objectives. The laws of war prohibit deliberate, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks against civilians. Those responsible for deliberate or reckless attacks on civilian property can be prosecuted for war crimes.

Ukrainian forces also have an obligation to take all feasible precautions to avoid or minimize harm to civilians. These precautions include avoiding operating from an area where there are civilians and civilian objects and preventing civilians from entering areas of active hostilities.

The use of wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas heightens fears of unlawful, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. These weapons have a large kill radius, are inherently inaccurate, or deliver multiple rounds at once. This includes the use of unguided and unobserved large caliber projectiles, which may also have been used in the attack on Irpin on March 6. The use of these weapons should be avoided in populated areas.

The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine. The civilian deaths in Irpin underscore the importance of the court’s scrutiny. The commission of inquiry established March 4 by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva is expected to investigate allegations of unlawful attacks in Irpin.

“Both parties to this conflict have an obligation to take all possible measures to avoid injury to civilians and to allow the civilian population to evacuate safely,” Weir said. “International investigations should send a message to those responsible for reckless and indiscriminate attacks that they may one day face justice.”