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Explosive violence by the Russian armed forcesAOAV: all our reportsExplosive violence in Ukraine

Ukraine: uncovering the devastation of Mariupol

The release of a 224-page report by Human Rights Watch, Truth Hounds, and SITU Research provides a detailed examination of the Russian military’s assault on Mariupol, Ukraine, from February to May 2022. Titled “‘Our City Was Gone’: Russia’s Devastation of Mariupol, Ukraine,” this document, along with its digital multimedia features and a video, brings to light the extensive civilian suffering and infrastructure damage incurred during the conflict. Drawing on 240 interviews with mostly displaced Mariupol residents, as well as an analysis of over 850 photos and videos, documents, and satellite imagery, the report offers a comprehensive overview of the devastation that befell this city.

The investigation reveals the heavy toll of the military operations on civilian life, detailing how thousands were killed or injured, and hundreds of thousands were trapped for weeks without access to basic services. It meticulously documents 14 specific attacks that resulted in the destruction of 18 buildings, including hospitals, residential structures, and other civilian facilities. These attacks, often conducted with little or no evidence of military presence at the sites, raise serious concerns about their legality under international law.

Personal accounts within the report add a human dimension to the statistical and analytical data, with vivid descriptions of the aftermath of attacks on residential buildings. These narratives convey the immediate human cost of the conflict, from the loss of life to the psychological and physical scars borne by survivors.

The report serves as a call to action for accountability, identifying Russian military units and officials who may be responsible for overseeing or directly participating in these operations. By laying out the evidence and calling for further investigation, the report underscores the need for international scrutiny and potential prosecution of those deemed responsible for war crimes in Mariupol.

In the wake of the conflict, Russian authorities have initiated reconstruction efforts in Mariupol, which include building new residential areas. However, the report expresses concerns that these activities may lead to the erasure of physical evidence at sites of alleged war crimes. Moreover, the imposition of Russian educational curricula and the renaming of streets are seen as attempts to erase Ukrainian cultural identity, adding another layer of loss for the residents of Mariupol.

The broader implications of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as highlighted by the devastation in Mariupol, point to an urgent need for international condemnation and action. Such practices not only cause immediate harm to civilians but also long-term damage to the fabric of affected communities.

In response to the report, Dr Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, said: “”In the shadow of Mariupol’s devastation, we’re reminded of the profound impact armed conflict has on civilian populations. The indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in populated areas not only breaches international humanitarian law but also leaves behind a legacy of suffering and destruction that communities must bear for generations. It’s imperative that the international community takes decisive action to address this, ensuring accountability for those responsible and advocating for the protection of civilians in conflict zones. Our collective moral compass demands no less.”

In compiling and presenting this detailed account of the assault on Mariupol, the report admirably aims not only to document the events but also to contribute to the ongoing calls for justice and accountability for the victims of the conflict. It highlights the critical role of international bodies and the global community in addressing the consequences of military actions in civilian areas and ensuring that those responsible for violations of international law are held to account.