Ukrainian military strike Russian vehicles in Kharkiv
The report, published today by Human Rights Watch, specifically documents incidents in which civilians were killed and wounded and hospitals and homes damaged by Russian artillery strikes, in what the non-governmental organisation says are clear violations of international humanitarian law. During recent visits to Kharkiv, in Ukraine’s north-east, as well as the neighbouring town of Derhachi, Human Rights Watch officials documented eight unlawful incidents of attacks which killed 12 civilians, wounded 26 others, and damaged at least five hospital buildings.
No precautions were taken by Russian troops, in accordance with the laws of war, to minimise civilian harm in any of the documented attacks, three of which involved cluster munitions, consisting of containers which open in the air and scatter large numbers of explosive submunitions (or ‘bomblets’) over a wide area.
Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Russian forces have pummelled Kharkiv and surrounding areas, attacking densely populated residential neighbourhoods with indiscriminate weapons.
“In the cases we documented, Russian forces appeared to show little regard for civilian lives and the laws of war.”
Vladimir Putin’s Russia is targeting Ukrainian civilians with cluster bombs, the report explained
Ukraine: The tail section of a Russian 300mm rocket which appears to contain cluster bombs
Andrii Kravchenko, Kharkiv region’s deputy prosecutor, says at least 1,019 civilians, including 52 children, have been killed and 1,947 others wounded, including 152 children, in hundreds of attacks by Russian forces in the Kharkiv region since late February.
Between May 24 and June 28, Human Rights Watch researchers inspected the sites of eight of these cases, including three in Kharkiv and five in Derhachi.
During the course of their investigation, they interviewed 28 people, including 22 witnesses to the eight incidents.
These included hospital workers, State Emergency Service representatives, and local prosecutors, with some asking for their names to be withheld for security reasons.
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Kharkiv: A nurse stays in a maternity hospital after bombing by the Russian army
Two volunteers were injured on May 12 when a cluster munition rocket pierced the roof of a cultural centre in Derhachi, where workers were preparing food and other aid for local residents.
At about the same time, submunitions – possibly from the same rocket – landed in the garden of a couple who lived roughly a kilometre away, killing both.
On May 23, a cluster munition attack hit a women’s outpatient services clinic at a maternity hospital in Kharkiv city, wounding a man at a bus stop outside the clinic building and damaging the building’s façade, windows, and pharmacy.
Three days later, a 63-year-old man taking a walk was killed when a munition detonated in Kharkiv’s August 23 Square park.
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Kharkiv: A car destroyed by debris from an apartment that fell on it during shelling
About a kilometre away, a woman who had just begun a new job at a salon said her husband, who had come to take her home, and their four-month-old baby boy were killed when a munition struck near the salon.
The woman and a colleague were injured, and a client was also killed. In seven of the incidents of attacks, Human Rights Watch found no evident military target – such as armed forces, weapons, or bases or other positions – in the vicinity of the attack.
In one, which damaged a hospital, there may have been a small Ukrainian military presence nearby, but the special protections provided to medical facilities under the laws of war meant this attack was nevertheless unlawful.
All of the incidents of attacks documented appeared to contravene the laws of war.
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The attacks were unlawfully indiscriminate because they were not directed at a specific military target or could not distinguish between civilians or civilian objects and military objectives, Human Rights Watch said.
A State Emergency Service representative in Kharkiv said that between February 24 and May 7, 2,700 unexploded submunitions had been collected in the city and surrounding areas.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights believes of the 5,514 civilians killed and 7,698 injured which it recorded in Ukraine between February 24 and August 14 – probably a significant undercount – the majority were caused by explosive weapons with wide area effects, such as shelling from heavy artillery and multi-barrel rocket launchers, missiles, and airstrikes.
Ms Wille added: “Kharkiv residents have been living in fear of the next strike for months, as their city has endured some of the worst devastation and death amid widespread Russian attacks.
The crater from a Russian missile in Kharkiv
“National and international prosecutors investigating war crimes in Ukraine should work to ensure that those responsible for the unlawful attacks in Kharkiv are held to account.”
Speaking in February, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, David Lammy MP, said: “It is appalling that Vladimir Putin may have used cluster bombs in his unprovoked attack on the Ukrainian people.”
He added: “The ICC should urgently investigate whether a war crime has been committed and the rogue Russian regime should immediately withdraw.”
Also in February, Sam Cranny-Evans, a Research Analyst for the Royal United Services Institute, told Express.co.uk: “The Russian army will likely start to do more of this type of thing against civilians if they can’t achieve their goals through other means.”