“The village is almost destroyed, as it was under heavy shelling since the start, and a Russian flag is now flying in the square. Mobile connection and electricity are almost non-existent. Abandoned houses and administrative buildings that have escaped destruction are now being looted.” – Woman from Tryokhizbenka, Donbas
Over the past week, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), like others, has strived to monitor data on incidents of civilian harm from open-source, local, and international media, as well as from local authorities, in order to identify main patterns and trends.
Initial reports focused on significant incidental harm resulting from warfighting in densely populated areas. In many urban centers of Ukraine, the entanglement of military objectives with civilian presence and civilian objects – further exacerbated by the use of explosive weapons such as ballistic missiles, multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), and other explosive weapons with wide area effect – have resulted in civilian deaths and injuries, as well as damage to critical infrastructure. The reported use of prohibited weapons, such as banned cluster munitions, also aggravates risks to civilians. Moreover, the presence of unexploded ordnances (UXOs) presents threats to civilians that can last for years to come, as they may unknowingly detonate and the process to remove them is often dangerous.
As conflict escalates, we are also observing an increased use by the Russian Federation of tactics designed to create massive casualties. These include indiscriminate attacks on populated areas, as well as possible targeted attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, although verification of information is very complex at the moment.
Both indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians represent blatant violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
As a result, civilians (including women and children) have been harmed; residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and essential infrastructure destroyed; and oil depots, nuclear waste disposals, and power plants damaged.
For many, leaving their home and fleeing within Ukraine to safer areas, or out of Ukraine entirely, has been the only solution, which further exposes them to immense risks. For others, the only solution is/has been to stay and take shelter.
One week into the war, the international community needs to support the adoption of urgent measures to protect the lives of civilians in Ukraine.
The first absolute priority is to bring about a ceasefire and stop the fighting.
Second, evacuation routes need to be urgently negotiated in order to allow civilians to safely flee. Civilians must not be prevented from fleeing, nor be attacked during the process.
Third, humanitarian corridors must be established from and into areas exposed to intense fighting, where the dire need of food, medical supplies, winterization items, and other essential non-food items increases the vulnerability of the population day after day.
Fourth, in order to bring about full accountability and transparency into alleged International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) violations and abuses, the work of existing monitoring and investigation mechanisms in Ukraine needs to be reinforced and scaled up; in addition, an independent fact-finding mission, for instance under the form of an independent international commission of inquiry, needs to urgently be established to hold perpetrators accountable.
In order to fully establish facts and circumstances and to identify perpetrators, disaggregated data will need to be able to track specific incidents attributed to private military contractors.
All parties should abide by IHL and IHRL; all parties must take precautionary measures to mitigate harm before, during, and after operations to protect the civilian population of Ukraine.
Beatrice Godefroy, CIVIC Europe Director