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This photograph shows a view of a school destroyed as a result of fighting not far from the center of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv

This photograph shows a view of a school destroyed as a result of fighting not far from the center of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, located some 50 km from the Ukrainian-Russian border, on February 28, 2022. (Photo: Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images)

'Cruel' and 'Indiscriminate' Attacks on Civilians by Russia Violate International Law: Amnesty

Attacks involving Smerch rockets and cluster bombs have targeted civilian areas including schools and residential buildings, the rights group said.

Andrea Germanos

Amnesty International on Friday released findings from an on-the-ground investigation showing Russia's "siege tactics" in multiple Ukrainian cities amount to violations of international law.

"Launching indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians constitutes a war crime."

"A defining feature of these cruel sieges," said Amnesty International's Crisis Response Program director Joanne Mariner, "is Russia's relentless indiscriminate attacks, which cause utterly devastating harm over time."

The findings—based on physical evidence, in-person and remote testimony, verified photo and video evidence, and satellite imagery—come as Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its sixth week and Russian President Vladimir Putin's military forces face repeated accusations of causing indiscriminate harm to the civilian population.

Amnesty's documentation included fragments from internationally banned cluster munitions used in a March 4 attack in a populated area in Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv, one of five cities at the center of the investigation and where use of cluster bombs had already been suspected.

Kharkiv's Saltivka district was heavily targeted, according to the rights group, and suffered 22 incidents within the first three weeks of the invasion. Those attacks included the use of Smerch rockets and cluster bombs and targeted civilian areas including "schools, residential blocks, food markets, and a tram depo."

Russia's attacks have also brought about "denial of basic services" to civilians, according to the investigation. Amnesty points to evidence of strikes on TV towers in the cities of Kharkiv and Izium that disrupted services and thus blocked vital information to residents.

The assault has been particularly catastrophic for the elderly and those with disabilities.

The research includes testimony from an unnamed person running a bomb shelter holding 300 people in Saltivka. The person told Amnesty that "the majority are older, fragile," and have "asthma, diabetes. There are some who haven't left the shelter in three weeks."

"The biggest problem in Saltivka," they said, "is that the older people die for lack of medicine, from shock, from a heart attack."

A 39-year-old diabetic told Amnesty how his apartment building in Kharkiv was hit with Smerch rockets. He hurt his foot as he ran and tried to escape shelling while out to obtain food.

"I was trying to get to the bomb shelter but couldn't," he said. "I broke six bones, and they [doctors] want to amputate."

Russia's use of cluster bombs and other "inherently indiscriminate weapons" such as so-called 'dumb' bombs and firings from Multiple Launch Rocket Systems on highly populated civilian areas are destroying civilian infrastructure, said Amnesty, and may constitute violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

"Launching indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians constitutes a war crime," the rights group said.

The new research was released just days after U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet said her office had credible allegations of Russian forces having used cluster bombs in populated areas at least two dozen times since the invasion began.

She lamented that "homes and administrative buildings, hospitals and schools, water stations, and electricity systems have not been spared" from the assault.

"Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes," Bachelet told the Human Rights Council. "The massive destruction of civilian objects and the high number of civilian casualties strongly indicate that the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution have not been sufficiently adhered to."

According to U.N. figures, Russia's invasion has caused 3,257 civilian casualties including 1,276 killed, though the actual toll is likely "considerably higher." Over 10.5 million people have been uprooted, including more than two million children.

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