Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, as they try to repel the Russian invasion that began in February, Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday.
It said that such tactics violate international humanitarian law and endanger civilians, as they turn civilian objects into military targets.
“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”
Not every Russian attack documented by Amnesty International followed this pattern, the statement added, saying:
In certain other locations in which Amnesty International concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military. Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian strikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak criticized the Amnesty report, accusing Moscow of trying to "discredit the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the eyes of Western societies." It was, he added in a tweet, "a shame that the organization like Amnesty is participating in this disinformation and propaganda campaign."
"The only thing that poses a threat to Ukrainians is (Russian) army of executioners and rapists coming to (Ukraine) to commit genocide," he said in the tweet.
Amnesty said that throughout the investigations, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions.
Most residential areas where soldiers located themselves were kilometers away from front lines, according to the statement.
Amnesty International said viable alternatives were available that would not endanger civilians -- such as military bases or densely wooded areas nearby, or other structures further away from residential areas.
It also said that on the cases it documented, Amnesty International was not aware that the Ukrainian military who located themselves in civilian structures in residential areas asked or assisted civilians to evacuate nearby buildings which amounts to a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.
Podolyak said protecting civilians is the priority of Ukrainian forces. "Our defenders protect their nation and families. People's lives are the priority for Ukraine, that is why we are evacuating residents of front-line cities," he said.
“Ukraine strictly adheres to all laws of warfare and international humanitarian law,” Podolyak also said in a statement. “The absolute priority for the Armed Forces of Ukraine is to preserve the life and health of every citizen under condition of Russian barbaric aggression. Therefore, we are consistently taking all measures to help Ukrainians move from the zone of active hostilities to safer areas.”
Podolyak said Russia is the main offender. Experts have found that patterns of violent acts by Russian forces in Ukraine meet the qualification of crimes against humanity.
“Russia adheres to the tactics of total terror and ignores any rules and laws, trying to destroy civilian infrastructure and civilians as much as possible. There is no and cannot be any justification for this,” he said. “We regularly see how the Russian army shells residential areas 500+ km from the front, deliberately killing civilians and children.”
CNN's Olga Voitovych contributed reporting to this post.