On the morning of March 4, Olesky Stovba, a 41-year-old family man, was injured in an attack while shopping for food in the Mala-Danylivka district of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city to the east. “We found some food, we stood outside the grocery store and I heard a big noise. I turned around and saw a bunch of small flames. It was up to my knees, 50 meters from me. I fell, and my wife too, and I felt something hit my right leg. I pulled down my pants and I saw a lot of blood.”
Surgeons removed three fragments from his right groin, calf and foot. An Amnesty International (AI) investigator examined the evidence in person: the largest piece was from a cluster munition. These weapons have a far-reaching effect, making them inherently inaccurate, and are prohibited by international treaty.
The Saltivka district of Kharkiv has also been the target of repeated attacks. There, the NGO’s Crisis Testing Laboratory has verified 22 incidents, which showed damage to civilian areas, such as schools, blocks of flats, markets and a railway station., between February 27 and March 16. The photos of the attacks show remnants of Smerch rockets – a Russian multiple launch system – and cluster munitions throughout the area.
“It has become my new reality: shooting and shelling, helping old women out of the rubble, no gas, no water, no electricity. Once every three days we boil ice to have water,” said a man who has been running a bomb shelter in Saltivka where there are 300 people. “Most of them are elderly, frail, have asthma, diabetes. Some haven’t left the shelter for three weeks.”
In an on-the-ground investigation, the specialized human rights organization has denounced that the Russian Army’s siege war tactics in Ukraine, “characterized by relentless indiscriminate attacks against densely populated areas, are illegally killing civilians in several cities”.
The NGO’s field investigators in Ukraine have for the first time independently verified physical evidence of cluster munitions, the use of which “violates international law,” they say. The entity had already confirmed that cluster bombs had killed a child and two other civilians sheltering in a preschool in the Sumy region, and had documented an airstrike that had killed people queuing to buy food in Chernigov. .
In addition, the team has collected testimonies such as the Olesky Stovba to document Russian siege tactics, including unlawful indiscriminate attacks, disruption of basic services, communication outages, destruction of civilian infrastructure, and restrictions on access to medicine and medical care.
Russian forces, as the NGO recalls, have used in recent weeks weapons with inherently indiscriminate effects – such as cluster munitions and low-precision weapons with effects over wide areas, such as “dumb” (unguided) bombs and discharges from multiple rocket launchers—in attacks against densely populated areas.
Amnesty International believes that the attacks by Russian forces on towns and cities, and the destruction of infrastructure necessary for daily life, violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians “also constitute war crimes,” the NGO maintains in a statement.
Joanne Mariner, director of AI’s Crisis Response Program, notes that a “characteristic feature” of these “cruel sieges” is “the relentless indiscriminate attacks launched by Russia, causing total devastation as time goes on.” The civilian population trapped in besieged cities, recalls the NGO, must have “urgent” access to humanitarian corridors that allow the safe evacuation of those who want to leave and the arrival of humanitarian supplies for those who remain.
The NGO has interviewed people under siege in five cities, including Kharkiv and Mariupol, and has also analyzed satellite images and verified videos and photos of the incidents.
In Kharkov – to whose periphery the Russian forces arrived in the first days trying to surround the city – they have documented a “wide pattern of indiscriminate illegitimate attacks” in populated areas. On February 28, according to the NGO, three discharges from multiple rocket launcher systems reached the northern part of the city and killed at least nine civilians, including minors.
The research team also interviewed a 16-year-old girl who had evacuated alone from Kharkov at a shelter in Lviv, western Ukraine. The organization verified an image showing the remains of a 220mm Uragán multiple launch system rocket that fell near the apartment complex where her family lives, near a school. “The missile fell at night; I smelled the fire and felt the tremors. My whole family, all of us, have lived in the corridor of the apartment building since the first day of the war.”
No basic services
The interruption of mobile phone and Internet services makes it very difficult to communicate with the civilian population in besieged cities, according to the NGO, which recalls that many people spend most of their time in underground bomb shelters, where coverage does not reach or is very weak. However, access to communications and the Internet “is essential for safety, and to have vital information on possible evacuation routes.”
In Kharkiv and Izium – a city in the east where the NGO has denounced that the civilian population is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster – the attacks damaged compounds in which television towers are erected. According to the investigation, the Kharkov TV tower compound was probably damaged between February 27 and March 17, and service outages were reported as early as March 6. A building associated with the Izium television tower was damaged on March 12, and sustained further damage until March 20. Broadcasts were interrupted. “Many older people rely on television for government news and emergency information.”
Siege tactics aggravate the significant impact that the conflict already has on the elderly and people with disabilities, recalls the NGO, which compiles the testimony of Alexander Mihta, a 39-year-old man from Kharkiv who is diabetic. and he has serious problems walking due to the damage that the disease has caused to his feet.
As they explain, Alexander took his wife and daughter to the Polish border by car, but then had to stay in Ukraine due to the application of martial law. Smerch rockets hit the building where he lived, left them without heat and flooded the lower floors. The AI team verified 21 photos that confirmed damage to the residential block. Mihta managed to escape to a shelter in Lviv with his father.
“The bombings were getting worse. I needed food, so I went shopping. I have diabetes, and when the shelling intensified, I ran and sprained my leg. I tried to get to the bomb shelter, but I couldn’t. I broke six bones, and the doctors wanted to amputate,” the man said. The NGO reminds that elderly and disabled people should have priority in the evacuation.