Soldiers in civilian areas: A touchy topic in Ukraine

Soldiers in civilian areas: A touchy topic in Ukraine

A woman walks past a school partially destroyed by a missile
A woman walks past a school partially destroyed by a missile. Photo: Anatolii Stepanov / AFP
Source: AFP

The daily strikes on residential areas in eastern Ukraine have raised sensitive questions about military personnel deploying in civilian areas, as well as the activities of local informants.

AFP has visited many villages and towns in the Donetsk region, which Russian troops are trying to capture, where civilian areas with no apparent military significance are regularly being attacked.

In Pokrovsk, 85 kilometres (53 miles) to the south of Kramatorsk, the main city in the Ukrainian-held part of the region, a strike destroyed or damaged a dozen homes on a single street last week.

There have been similar and often deadly strikes in Kostiantynivka, Toretsk and even in Kramatorsk, further from the front line.

For many local residents, there is no doubt about why these areas are being hit -- they say Ukrainian troops are deploying in abandoned homes and schools.

AFP cannot independently verify their claims.

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Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation, has accused both Russian and Ukrainian forces of putting civilians at risk by setting up positions in residential areas.

The group named four cases in areas occupied by Russian forces and three on the Ukrainian side in a report this month.

"Russian and Ukrainian forces have put civilians in Ukraine at unnecessary risk by basing their forces in populated areas without removing residents to safer areas," the report said.

Ukrainian rescuers use a crane to move the debris out of a school building Kramatorsk
Ukrainian rescuers use a crane to move the debris out of a school building Kramatorsk. Photo: Anatolii Stepanov / AFP
Source: AFP

Asked about the issue by AFP, the governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said: "It's a war. It is impossible to avoid the destruction of infrastructure or homes.

"Our primary task is to stop the enemy and that can lead to the destruction of infrastructure. It is impossible to fight this war any other way," he said.

Informants

In Kramatorsk, retired lathe operator Yevgen, 70, stood smoking a cigarette outside the ruins of school number 23 after it was destroyed by a strike.

The building, which in peacetime would host 500 children aged between seven and 17, was the second school in the city that was reduced to rubble.

Seven more schools in the city have been damaged since the start of the war, according to Denis Sysoyev, the local official in charge of education.

Human Rights Watch has accused both Russian and Ukrainian forces of putting civilians at risk
Human Rights Watch has accused both Russian and Ukrainian forces of putting civilians at risk. Photo: Anatolii Stepanov / AFP
Source: AFP

The school had been used since the start of the war as a food aid depot.

But Yevgen said that "the Russians are targeting Ukrainian soldiers. I don't know if they were staying inside the school but we regularly saw them coming and going around here".

"And in our area there are lots of 'well-intentioned' people who want to help and inform the Russians," he said.

Natalia, a mother of three pupils from school 23, made the same claim.

She mentioned a Telegram group of local residents where she said the comments left no doubt about "who is pro-Russian and who is not".

'Calm down'

Every time there is a Russian strike, there is talk about the sensitive topic of informants.

"I wonder, how does the enemy know the coordinates of the places where military are based?" Kyrylenko said.

"Many people remain loyal to the occupiers and are awaiting the Russian world. They know it is treason. They will regret it later," he said.

A man walks in a crater following a missile strike in the town of Kostyantynivka
A man walks in a crater following a missile strike in the town of Kostyantynivka. Photo: Anatolii Stepanov / AFP
Source: AFP

Kramatorsk mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko wrote that "hatred is rising among local residents".

"Those who are awaiting the arrival (of the Russians), those who have been promised piles of gold and freedom of expression from their 'saviours' are idiots," he said on Facebook.

"I beg you to calm down. Set aside your resentment and your suspicions. Turn your anger in a different direction, against those who want to rob you of your normal and peaceful life".

Galyna Prychepa, spokeswoman for the intelligence services in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, said 37 informants have been arrested in the area since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

They are accused of espionage and high treason.

There are similar problems in the south of Ukraine where the governor of the Mykolaiv region, which is under constant shelling by Russian forces, has announced a reward of $100 for anyone who helps identify Russian informants.

On his Telegram account, Vitaly Kim asked for information on "those who reveal to the occupiers the locations of Ukrainian troop deployments" or pass on coordinates of potential targets.

Source: AFP

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