A report by Amnesty International accusing the Ukrainian army of endangering civilians has drawn criticism from western diplomats, including the British and US ambassadors to Ukraine, as the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, attacked its findings.
The report accused the Ukrainian military of putting civilians at risk by positioning themselves in residential areas, saying that soldiers should not be basing themselves in empty schools or repurposing civilian buildings in urban areas as it meant the Russians would target them and civilians would be caught up in the crossfire.
But critics say the report was poorly researched and put together. They argue that the report ignores Ukraine’s wartime realities and draws moral equivalence between Russia, the aggressor, and Ukraine, the victim.
The report has been quoted extensively by Kremlin-directed Russian media as a way to evidence their false claims that Russian forces are only going after military targets in Ukraine.
Amnesty International stood by its assertion that Ukraine breached international humanitarian law and said its findings were based on evidence gathered during extensive investigations. While stressing that it condemns Russia’s invasion, it said it would report Ukrainian violations when it observed them.
“Our research into Russia’s violations of the laws of war is ongoing. However, we also believe it is crucial to respond impartially,” read a statement. “Ignoring violations committed by either side in any conflict would not be meaningful human rights reporting.”
The head of Amnesty’s Ukraine operations, Oksana Pokalchuk, resigned her post on Friday evening, a day after claiming the organisation ignored her concerns about the report.
Criticism of the organisation’s conclusions was voiced almost immediately after publication, by Ukraine’s deputy minister of defence, Hanna Maliar, academics and civil society actors. Maliar argued at a press briefing in Kyiv that Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems needed to be based in towns to protect civilian infrastructure and if Ukrainian forces were only based outside urban settlements, “Russian armed forces would simply sweep in unopposed”.
There was also criticism from within Amnesty. Pokalchuk said that the organisation had cut its Ukraine staff out of the publication process when they voiced concerns that the research, by their foreign colleagues, was incomplete and inadmissible.
The criticism grew with responses from Ukraine’s minister of defence, Oleksii Reznikov, who called the report a “perversion”, the foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, and Zelenskiy himself.
During his nightly address, Zelenskiy accused Amnesty of “immoral selectivity” that helps a terrorist state by portraying the victim and aggressor as the same and ignoring what the aggressor is doing. Zelenskiy said that there cannot be – even hypothetically – any condition under which any Russian attack on Ukraine becomes justified.
Hundreds of Ukrainians also took to social media to post footage and stories of the atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine over the last six months, pointing to the fact that it was Russia, not Ukraine, that was harming civilians in Ukraine.
In response, Amnesty International’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard, hit back, describing the criticism as an attack on Amnesty’s investigation by “social media mobs and trolls”.
“This is called war propaganda, disinformation, misinformation. This won’t dent our impartiality and won’t change the facts,” Callamard wrote on Twitter.