Russia Faces War Crime Accusations as Civilian Casualties Grow
Unexpected setbacks for the Russian army in their war on Ukraine have led to the invasion forces hitting civilian targets with more frequent airstrikes. Five people were killed by the Russians in Kyiv, on the sixth and final day of their assault. They targeted a television tower close to the Babi Yor Holocaust Memorial. At least 10 people were killed when a rocket exploded in front of an administrative building located in the central square of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. A bombardment has decimated hospitals, schools, and apartments in the city of Kharkiv. It is not slowing down.
Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky said the Kharkiv airstrike, which was captured on closed circuit television and shared widely on social media, qualified as “outright, undisguised terror.” In the footage, cars were stopped at a traffic light on their morning commute at around 8 a.m. local time when an incoming rocket exploded into a massive fireball that consumed several vehicles.
“The attack on Kharkiv is a war crime,” Zelensky said Tuesday in a video statement. “After that, Russia is a terrorist state. Nobody will forget. No one will forget.”
Nearly a week into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, civilians living in the northern and eastern parts of the country are being hit with around-the-clock airstrikes, artillery shelling and unguided rockets. It remains unclear if Russia’s strikes on civilian targets are intended or incidental, but U.S. officials say that there’s been a noticeable shift in tactics in recent days as the attacks have turned to densely populated cities. Although it is impossible to give a complete accounting, the United Nations human right office has reported that at least 136 civilians were killed in the attacks, 13 of which were children, as well as 400 injuries, over the past six days. “These are only the casualties we were able to cross-check, and the real toll is likely to be much higher,” said U.N. spokeswoman Liz Throssell.
Russia’s indiscriminate use of weapons that have killed non-combatant Ukrainians drew widespread condemnation. Amnesty International said Russia was accused of using cluster bombs in an attack that took place in northeastern Ukraine on February 25th. Civilians remained inside. Human Rights Watch reported a similar attack on an hospital in the country’s east just one day earlier. Cluster munitions are being targeted by a growing international movement to be banned. They imprecisely distribute bomblets packed with shrapnel and then fall onto fields that farmers later plough, creating a danger long-term.
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., told reporters Monday after meeting with members of the U.S. Congress that Russia had used a thermobaric weapon, known as a “vacuum bomb,” that is particularly likely to cause civilian casualties when used in or near urban settings. Fuel-air explosive takes up oxygen to create a blast which is much more powerful than high explosives used in enclosed spaces.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the use of such a weapon on civilian targets “would potentially be a war crime.” The International Criminal Court said it intended to open an investigation into whether Russia has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence could not make this accusation at this time. “We can’t say definitively that they are deliberately targeting civilian population areas or civilians,” said a senior defense official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “We can’t prove that. But they certainly are not as risk-averse when it comes to the impact they’re having on the civilian population.”
According to the U.S., multiple thermobaric rocket launchers were spotted in Ukraine. However, intelligence was unable to determine if Russia used them. “We cannot confirm the use of thermobaric weapons,” the official said, “but we have seen inside Ukraine the kinds of launchers that could be used for those weapons.”
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said the collection and preservation of evidence is crucial to any successful future investigations. “Above all, we must ensure that the tragically increasing number of victims of war crimes in Ukraine hear a message that the international community is already determined to secure redress for their suffering,” she said.
In the face of increasing civilian casualties there has been a growing demand for more aggressive west intervention. Some observers have argued the U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies should establish a “no-fly zone,” in which American and allied fighter jets would regularly patrol over Ukraine and shoot down Russian military aircraft that breached it.
Pentagon rejected this idea because President Joe Biden had repeatedly insisted that U.S. troops would remain out of conflict in Ukraine. “There’s no debating about it here,” the official said. “The President of the United States, the commander in chief, said we’re not going to be fighting in Ukraine and certainly if you were to enact a no-fly zone that puts you in the fight. It’s just not going to happen.”
It is continuing to increase the humanitarian impact of the conflict in the region. Around 677,000 peopleAccording to the United Nations High Commissar for Refugees, more than 4,000,000 people fled Ukraine. The U.N.’s refugee agency said most of those fleeing had headed to the 300-mile border with Poland, where U.S. forces are helping with preparations for new arrivals, while other displaced civilians left for Hungary, Moldova and Romania.
They flee daily bloodshed and the future violence. The Russian tank and vehicle convoy is located just 20 miles northwest of Kyiv. It measures approximately 40 miles in length. The movement may signal Moscow’s plan to encircle the capital and cut it off from military defenses.
However, the Russian advance is slowing down than we expected. The Ukrainian resistance has not been weak. No major Ukrainian city has been seized by Moscow despite fears of a collapse in the Ukrainian military under the increasing combat power from Russia. It is still contested over the airspace above Ukraine. Although it’s still early in the invasion, U.S. intelligence assesses that morale is sagging among Russian military on the ground in Ukraine, the U.S. defense official said.
Some Russian troops have simply surrendered without fighting or resorted to damaging their own vehicles so they wouldn’t have to fight, the official said. Many military units consist of conscripts who were ill-prepared for grinding ground assault and, in some cases, weren’t given enough food, fuel or other equipment to carry out the mission. “A lot of these soldiers are conscripts who have never been in combat before,” the official said. “Some of them, we believe, weren’t even told they were going to be in combat.” The defense official declined to say how the U.S. came to these conclusions.