Ukraine: UN rights office probe spotlights harrowing plight of civilians
The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine confirmed that more than 3,380 civilians have been killed since 24 February, and over 3,680 injured.
“We heard about snipers on roofs who would just shoot fairly randomly at civilians when they would cross the road, I assume as a form of trying to keep people in their houses and discourage them from going out,” said Mission head Matilda Bogner.
Once it is safe enough for rights monitors to access front line locations, the actual number of victims is expected to be many thousands more, including in the devastated southern port city of Mariupol, Ms. Bogner added.
“During my recent visit to towns north of Kyiv, we documented a number of cases of sexual violence. In one town...a woman was raped and killed allegedly by a Russian soldier. The same soldier then attempted to rape her neighbour. This woman’s husband intervened but was then shot by the soldier. He later died.”
In Bucha and other suburban towns north of the capital that were overrun by Russian troops, human rights investigators recorded the unlawful killing of over 300 men, women and children.
“This includes summary executions and people shot at either in vehicles, crossing roads and so on,” said Ms. Bogner.
Bucha sprang to international prominence in early April, after graphic images showed the bodies of civilians splayed in the street, some with their hands tied behind their backs.
Before speaking to journalists in Geneva, Ms. Bogner and her team spent the last week visiting 14 towns in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions that were occupied by Russian armed forces until end-March.
“People told us of relatives, neighbours and friends killed, injured, detained and disappeared,” she said. “In Makariv (Kyiv oblast), a family of five was shot at by Russian armed forces as they tried to leave with their neighbours by car”. Sadly, only two survived.
In the village of Yahidne in Chernihiv region, central Ukraine, Ms. Bogner described meeting a 70-year-old man who had spent 24 days sheltering in a school basement.
“He told us with tears in his eyes that he shared a 76 square metre room with 138 people, the youngest was just two months old,” she recounted. “The space was so crowded that he had to sleep standing up and so tied himself to wooden rails so as not to fall down.”
Search for the missing
Many Ukrainians continue to search for missing relatives and friends – mainly young men – some of whom may have been taken to Belarus and then Russia, the UN official said.
She also noted credible reports received on the torture, ill-treatment and detention of Ukrainian soldiers by Russian armed forces and affiliated groups.
Military stationed near schools, hospitals
The high number of non-combatant casualties and massive destruction of civilian infrastructure strongly point to indiscriminate attacks, which are a violation of the rules of war, Ms. Bogner asserted.
She noted that schools, hospitals, private houses and multi-story residential buildings had been destroyed, and hundreds of educational and medical facilities damaged or razed to the ground.
“In many areas armed forces from both sides have been using schools as their bases” and placed heavy military equipment within the vicinities, the rights officer added.
Upcoming special rights session
Ms. Bogner’s comments came ahead of a Human Rights Council special session on Ukraine scheduled for Thursday in Geneva.
The Council has convened 34 special sessions to date.
At an urgent debate on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the last regular session, the members decided to establish an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of human rights surrounding that aggression.