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Moscow's Hollow Pledge to Avoid Civilian Harm in Attack on Ukraine

Moscow's Hollow Pledge to Avoid Civilian Harm in Attack on Ukraine
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Video producer Nik Yarst

Igor Konashenkov

Igor Konashenkov

Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman

"The Russian armed forces are not striking at the cities of Ukraine; they are not threatening the civilian population."


On February 24, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said its forces invading Ukraine were not targeting civilians.

Konashenkov said no missile, aviation or artillery strikes would target cities, and that Russia’s military aim was to disable Ukrainian military infrastructure, aircraft, airfields and other facilities.

“The Russian armed forces are not striking at the cities of Ukraine. They are not threatening the civilian population,” Konashenkov told reporters.

That is false.

Media reports, social media videos and first-hand reports from Ukraine offer abundant evidence of civilian casualties and damaged civilian structures from what U.S. officials say is an all-out effort to capture the capital of Kyiv and topple the Ukrainian government.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on February 25 that 137 people – soldiers and civilians – had been killed and 316 wounded during the first day of Russian invasion, which began early February 24.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said February 25 that it had verified at least 127 civilian casualties, including 25 killed and 102 injured, mostly from shelling and airstrikes, The Associated Press reported.

Voice of America's Eastern European division reported on February 25 that Ukraine's former General Prosecutor Gyunduz Mamedov "said Friday that since Russia invaded, civilian casualties in Ukraine already total at least 42 civilians including 2 children."

Amnesty International said it documented three incidents in which at least six civilians were killed and 12 were injured. Amnesty cautioned that indiscriminate attacks violate international humanitarian law and can constitute war crimes.

“The Russian military has shown a blatant disregard for civilian lives by using ballistic missiles and other explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas. Some of these attacks may be war crimes," said Agnes Callamard, the Amnesty secretary-general. "The Russian government, which falsely claims to use only precision-guided weapons, should take responsibility for these acts.”

In the first few hours of the Russian invasion, the Ukraine Defense Ministry said Russian forces had struck airfields in Boryspil, Ozerne, Kulbakino, Chuhuiv, Kramatorsk and Chornobaivka. The ministry also said settlements on the Crimean border were shelled.

In its first report of casualties on February 24, the Ukrainian government said Russian forces had targeted 25 cities.

Ukrainian state foreign language broadcaster UATV reported that more than 50 people were killed and dozens injured in the initial Russian attacks and that dozens residential buildings were hit in several cities.

Images from the city of Chuhuiv showed civilian homes that were destroyed, reportedly in a Russian missile strike. Firefighters rushed to the scene. A boy reportedly died in the strike.

Ukraine’s Ukrinform news agency reported February 24 that Russian shells struck a hospital in Vuhledar, a city in the eastern Donetsk province, killing four civilians and injuring 10. Six of the injured were doctors, Ukrinform said.

Ukraine’s Health Minister Viktor Liashko called Russian attacks on hospitals a violation of the Geneva Conventions governing international armed conflict.

“Such actions of the occupiers are a direct threat to the life and health of the civilians and contradict the norms of international humanitarian law,” Liashko said on his official Facebook page.

Citing Ukrainian authorities, Reuters reported Thursday (February 24) that 18 people were killed in a Russian missile attack in Ukraine’s southern Odessa region. The news agency also reported that six people died and twelve were injured in an attack in the town of Brovary near Kyiv.

Many in Ukraine sought protection in underground shelters.

In Kyiv, people carrying luggage spent the night in underground metro stations. CBS News reported that people in Kharkiv, a city in eastern Ukraine near its borders with Russia, gathered in subway stations and parked trains.

The United Nations’ refugee agency said the Russian offensive triggered an enormous migration inside the country and across borders as Ukrainians fled for safety.

The agency's High Commissioner Filippo Grandi said on February 25 via Twitter that "more than 50,000 Ukrainian refugees have fled their country in less than 48 hours – a majority to Poland and Moldova – and many more are moving towards its borders."

A majority of those fleeing are likely to move to the western border countries of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Romania, reported CNBC.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on February 24 that more than 4,000 civilians had entered the country from Ukraine and that temporary placement centers were set up near Palanca and Ocnita.

Poland’s border service said 29,000 people had arrived from Ukraine on February 24, The New York Times reported.

The U.S. government estimated that the Russian invasion could prompt 1 million to 5 million Ukrainians to flee. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry estimated 3 million to 5 million potential refugees, reported CNBC.

Ukrainian officials said Russian troops had attacked a kindergarten and an orphanage, in Okhtyrka, a small city in the northeast Sumy province, Newsweek reported. The number of casualties has not been confirmed.

The Conflict Intelligence Team, a Moscow group that collects open-source intelligence, said it confirmed the location of a photo of the Sumy kindergarten and that a woman and a child appeared to have been killed. (Note: The photograph contains graphic material that may offend some readers.)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for a war crimes investigation.

Ukrainian defense officials said on the morning of February 25 that there had been multiple missile strikes in Kyiv, and that a residential building had been hit, The New York Times reported.

As night fell, Ukrainian forces battled Russian troops on the outskirts of Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that civilians weren’t being attacked. “No strikes are being conducted on civilian infrastructure,” Lavrov insisted.

President Zelenskyy called that “a lie” in a TV address to the nation. “They say that civilian objects are not a target for them," he said. "They do not distinguish in which areas to operate.”