Oleksandr Ratushnyak/UNDP Ukraine

Civilians have become a prime target of Russian Armed Forces following their invasion of Ukraine, according to an initial research and analysis published by Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC). As the conflict escalates, reports of attacks by Russian forces that appear to have been directed at civilian areas have multiplied, according to CIVIC‘s initial findings. Current trends indicate that relevant obligations defined by international humanitarian law are not being met and its provisions could have been violated.

Following the launch of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) has been monitoring civilian harm incidents from open-source information, including local and international news sources and information shared by local authorities and communities. The initial report offers examples of cases of civilian harm in cities such as Kyiv, Mariupol, Uman, Vuhledar, and Kharkiv, noting that significant civilian harm has been the result of “fighting in densely populated areas and from the use of non-precision weapons.”

The report also notes that increased fighting and shelling in and near populated and urban areas suggest a shift in warfare tactics used by Russia’s Armed Forces aimed at causing mass civilian casualties to break down the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“There is little doubt that the war in Ukraine will be a massive tragedy for civilians that the world will remember for years to come,” says Beatrice Godefroy, Director for Europe at CIVIC. “The situation for civilians in areas under constant shelling or under the control of Russian Armed Forces is particularly alarming. Those willing to flee are prevented to do so and those staying are at risks of being killed or being assimilated to combatants.”

As attempts to put in place evacuation and humanitarian routes continue to fail, the cumulative impact on civilians trapped in frontline cities while having limited or no access to basic services, live-saving information, and communications will increase. This combination of different civilian harms hampers the ability of civilians to self-protect, warn the authors of the report.

Attacks on civilian infrastructure and dangerous sites such as hospitals and nuclear facilities pose also direct and indirect threats to civilians. “Strikes on gas pipelines or nuclear energy reactors can cause severe, long-term environmental and health consequences,” the report notes.

Based on this initial research and analysis, CIVIC offers urgent recommendations to better protect the civilians in Ukraine from the devastating consequences of war. Among several recommendations, the first priority is an immediate “pause in hostilities for several days” to create an environment conducive to the safe evacuation of civilians present in areas under constant fighting and to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance into these areas. CIVIC also calls Russian Armed Forces to immediately cease indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and urge the international community to prioritize the protection of civilians in all their efforts in order to exert pressure on Russia.


For more information, please contact:  

In The Hague: Hajer Naili, Director of Communications: hnaili@civiliansinconflict.org, + / +1.917. 889.5982 (WhatsApp)

In Washington, D.C.: CIVIC’s Global Media team: comms@civiliansinconflict.org