WaPo chastises Ukraine for firing heavy weaponry next to apartment complexes

Zelensky aid Alexei Arestovich says Ukrainian conduct is not bound by international law

Photo published by Avoz Battalion. Ukrainian tanks firing in Mariupol.
Zelensky aid Alexei Arestovich denied that Ukraine had any obligations to prevent fighting in civilian areas under international law.

The Washington Post ran an article chastising the Ukrainian government in Kiev for firing heavy weaponry next to occupied apartment complexes. The article begins by citing Ukrainian MP Oleksii Goncharenko as saying Russia hit an apartment complex in Kiev for no reason other than to kill civilians. WaPo states that a GRAD launcher was parked near the complex and firing rockets.

The article states that while it is true that Russian strikes are killing Ukrainian civilians, the tactics used by Ukraine are not doing civilians any favors. WaPo quotes experts who say it will be hard to prosecute any Russians for war crimes if they are charged with killing civilians when heavy equipment is present.

WaPo suggested that Ukraine was obligated by international law to do more to protect its own citizens from harm. Zelensky aid Alexei Arestovich responded to WaPo’s questions stating that international humanitarian law and the laws of war do not apply to Ukrainian forces.

From WaPo…

“They are just hitting residential buildings in these areas,” said the Ukrainian parliament member, who arrivedat the scene shortly after the explosion two weeks ago. “You can walk around, you will not find any military targets, or any military people. This is just terror.”
Yet a few minutes later, the whooshing sound of Ukrainian rockets fired from a multiple rocket launcher startled residents staring blankly at their destroyed homes. Then, another outgoing barrage. The weapons seemed to be nearby, perhaps a few streets away, certainly well inside the capital.
But Ukraine’s strategy of placing heavy military equipment and other fortifications in civilian zones could weaken Western and Ukrainian efforts to hold Russia legally culpable for possible war crimes, said human rights activists and international humanitarian law experts. Last week, the Biden administration formally declared that Moscow has committed crimes against humanity.
“If there is military equipment there and [the Russians] are saying we are launching at this military equipment, it undermines an assertion that they are attacking intentionally civilian objects and civilians,” said Richard Weir, a researcher in Human Rights Watch’s crisis and conflict division, who is working in Ukraine.
Over the past month, Washington Post journalists have witnessed Ukrainian antitank rockets, antiaircraft guns and armored personnel carriers placed near apartment buildings. Inone vacant lot, Post journalists spotted a truck carrying a multiple Grad rocket launcher. Checkpoints with armed men, barricades of sandbags and tires, and boxes of molotov cocktails are ubiquitous on city highways and residential streets. The sound of outgoing rockets and artillery can be heard constantly in Kyiv, the capital, the squiggly white trails of missiles visible in the sky.
“Every day, it’s like this,” said Lubov Bura, 73, standing outside the apartment building where she lived that was destroyed two weeks ago. Moments later, as the building was still burning, the sound of outgoing Ukrainian rockets was heard again.“ Sometimes it sounds closer, sometimes it seems far. We think about it and, of course, we are worried, especially in the night.”
The Ukrainian military has “a responsibility under international law” to remove their forces and equipment from civilian-populated areas, and if that is not possible, move civilians out of those areas, said Weir.
“If they don’t do that, that is a violation of the laws of war,” he added. “Because what they are doing is they are putting civilians at risk. Because all that military equipment are legitimate targets.”
In response to written questions from The Post, Alexei Arestovich, adviser to the head of the Office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said that the country’s military doctrine, approved by parliament, provides for the principle of “total defense.”

That means that volunteers in the Territorial Defense Forces or in other self-defense units have the legal authority to protect their homes, which are mostly in urban areas. Moreover, he argued that international humanitarian laws or the laws of war don’t apply in this conflict because “the main task of Putin’s military campaign is the destruction of the Ukrainian nation.” He said Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied Ukraine’s existence as an independent nation.

“Where an attack on a military objective may result in civilian casualties, the damage to civilians needs to be balanced against the military advantage,” said Schabas, the professor. “If there is no military advantage, then the violence is not justified, and it is reasonable to speak of war crimes.”

But the line between what constitutes a war crime becomes more blurred if residential neighborhoods are militarized and become battlefields where civilian deaths are inevitable.
“Ukraine cannot use civilian neighborhoods as ‘human shields,’” said Schabas, adding that he was not suggesting this is what is happening.

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