Ukraine: Heightened fears for safety of civilians before ceasefire begins on Saturday
Both sides to the conflict in eastern Ukraine must take immediate steps to protect civilians in the days before a ceasefire comes into force on Saturday, Amnesty International said today.
Both Ukrainian government forces and separatist militias must stop launching indiscriminate attacks that kill civilians, and must allow civilians to flee contested areas like Debaltseve safely.
The ceasefire, announced this morning in the Belarusian capital Minsk, does not enter into effect until midnight on Saturday, meaning the risk of civilian casualties in continued hostilities is extremely high. Civilians trapped in affected areas like the “Debaltseve pocket” are at particular risk, as both sides try to gain territory before the fighting is halted. An unknown number of civilians remain trapped in Debaltseve, a Ukrainian-held area currently under heavy attack by pro-Russian militias.
Joanne Mariner, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International who has just returned from Debaltseve, said:
“Given the intensity of the current fighting in Debaltseve, and the likely desire to escalate hostilities to gain ground before the ceasefire begins, we fear for the safety of the civilian population.
“When we visited Debaltseve last week we found devastation and suffering.
“Although many civilians have been evacuated, there were still a few thousand who remained, including children, pensioners and people with disabilities.
“Scores of civilians have been killed in recent weeks since the escalation in hostilities began, as both sides continue to employ indiscriminate weapons that should never be used to bombard heavily-populated areas.”
An Amnesty fact-finding team in the region over the past two weeks has found civilians in Debaltseve huddled in crowded basements, sheltering from almost non-stop shelling and rocket attacks. Lacking electricity, running water, and other basic necessities, people in the area are almost entirely dependent on humanitarian aid.
Amnesty said that both sides to the conflict in eastern Ukraine have violated the laws of war by carrying out indiscriminate attacks that have killed civilians. The intensity of the violence, and frequency of civilian deaths, has worsened with the recent escalation of hostilities. Sixteen civilians were killed in a rocket attack on the Kiev-held city of Kramatorsk on Tuesday, and at least five more were killed in a rocket attack on the separatist-held city of Donetsk on Wednesday.