On April 19, 2022 at 5:20 p.m., a Russian missile struck the only hospital in Bashtanka, a district centre in southern Ukraine, destroying an outpatient clinic and critical equipment. The blast wave from the explosion ripped through the rest of the hospital buildings, shattering windows and knocking out doors. At the time of the attack, several patients were undergoing surgery, and a number of women were in a labor ward. While all patients were safely evacuated, health care workers turned up the next morning in the rain, shoulder-to-shoulder with their friends and family, and began cleaning up the debris by hand. One and a half days later, with plastic wrap for windows and no doors, the facility reopened.
There have been at least 707 health care attacks between February and December 2022 in Ukraine, including damage to facilities such as strikes by ground-launched explosives, and other attacks such as looting, denial of access to health care, and disruption of patients’ access to utilities necessary for medical care. Nearly 200 medical workers, who are protected under international human rights laws, were either killed, injured, kidnapped, or arrested during the war.
These findings are part of a joint analysis of five different non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – eyeWitness to Atrocities (eyeWitness), Insecurity Insight, the Media Initiative for Human Rights (MIHR), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and the Ukrainian Healthcare Center (UHC). Their investigation found that over 250 attacks during Russia’s invasion last year left nearly one in ten Ukrainian hospitals damaged, some repeatedly.
The report is a comprehensive effort to map and analyze attacks on Ukrainian health care infrastructure and personnel by Russian forces. Researchers documented evidence of indiscriminate use of explosive weapons against Ukraine and alleged cases of kidnapping and torture of individual health workers.
Russia has previously claimed that it only fires on targets of military value, but a pattern is emerging from the data. Russia’s assault on Ukraine’s health system in 2022 stands out for its scale and indiscriminate violence against civilian infrastructure.
The report is likely to be presented at a non-binding tribunal this week in The Hague, where evidence of aggression in Ukraine will be heard. The tribunal will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to confirm an indictment and issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The coalition of investigators hopes that the proceedings will inspire the UN General Assembly to authorize the Secretary-General to enter into an agreement with Ukraine to establish a tribunal with legal jurisdiction over aggression in Ukraine.
The attacks on Ukrainian health care infrastructure and personnel by Russian forces are a violation of international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. This report is a wake-up call for the global community to act now to end impunity for wanton violence against health workers, in Ukraine and around the world.
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