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Ukraine condemns Amnesty International report that troops were too close to civilians

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The human rights group Amnesty International has often and repeatedly accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine. Well, now it's issued a damning report accusing the Ukrainian military of stationing its troops and artillery near residential areas. That goes against international conventions of war intended to protect civilians caught up in conflict. From Kyiv, NPR's Julian Hayda reports on how the Ukrainians are responding to the accusations.

JULIAN HAYDA, BYLINE: All day, Ukrainian officials have been strongly condemning the Amnesty International report that claims their troop movements are potentially exploiting civilian areas for their defense.

DONATELLA ROVERA: Obviously, you know, if the school is in a village where there is nobody left, or in a part of town that is completely empty, there is no absolute prohibition on doing that.

HAYDA: But Donatella Rovera, the report's author, says that's not what's been happening. She found evidence of Ukrainian soldiers in vacant schools, hospitals and houses that were too close to people. Rovera's team even documented cases where civilians shared meals with soldiers quartering next door. She's baffled by Ukraine's reaction to Amnesty's findings.

ROVERA: You never really have one side which is completely not committing any violations at all. But at least the authorities should be honest.

HAYDA: The reaction in Ukraine has been fierce.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HANNA MALIAR: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: Hanna Maliar, Ukraine's deputy defense minister, says that officials regularly warn civilians to evacuate, and thousands of people caught up near the front lines either can't or won't leave.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DMYTRO KULEBA: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: This video of the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has been playing over and over on Ukrainian television. In it, he pleads with Western organizations to, quote, "stop creating a false reality where everybody is equally to blame for the war." He and Maliar have both argued that Ukraine is fighting a defensive war, and that perhaps Amnesty should turn more of its attention to Russia. One top adviser for Ukraine's president even accused Amnesty of being Russian propagandists. Donatella Rovera says Amnesty has been very outspoken about Russian war crimes.

ROVERA: To say that issuing a, you know, whatever, four-page press release, compared to hundreds of pages that we've published since the beginning of the Russian invasion, you know, it's just not true.

HAYDA: She even gave the Ukrainian defense ministry a chance to rebuke the claims before the report was published, but didn't hear back on time. Rovera understands that Ukrainians are, in many ways, outgunned and outmatched, but that the Ukrainians need to acknowledge their alleged moral high ground takes a total adherence to international law. Julian Hayda, NPR News, Kyiv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julian Hayda

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