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25th Sep 2022

Russian siege attacks prompt calls for 'inclusive' evacuation

  • Evacuation from Irpin, near Kyiv. With Russian siege attacks raging, the elderly and other at-risk groups face isolation and abandonment. (Photo: Vadim Ghirda)
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Russian siege warfare strategy aimed at several cities in Ukraine has been marked by atrocities that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, according to new testimonies and evidence gathered by Amnesty International.

In their latest report on the war in Ukraine out on Friday (1 April), the human rights group revealed the denial of basic services and violent attacks across Ukraine, including the cities of Kharkiv and Mariupol.

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"For five weeks now, civilians across Ukraine have seen their cities razed day-by-day," said Joanne Mariner, chief of Amnesty International's crisis response programme.

Thousands of civilians trapped in cities under siege must be granted access to humanitarian corridors, Mariner said, pointing out that the elderly and people with disabilities are "disproportionately" suffering from "brutal siege tactics".

A 61-year-old woman, whose name has been left out for security reasons, decided not to flee Ukraine and take care of her 84-year-old mother, who lives in Kharkiv.

"[My mother] has dementia and always forgets why she is in the basement… She used to have a decent life, she could walk in the garden. Not anymore," she told staff on the ground from Amnesty International.

"The old people, we are staying," she said. "We are stuck here."

With Russian siege attacks raging, the elderly and other at-risk groups face isolation and abandonment. But they should be prioritised in evacuation operations, according to human rights groups.

Amnesty International has also documented attacks on populated areas including schools, residential blocks, and food markets which could constitute "war crimes."

A man running a bomb shelter housing 300 people in Saltivka said the biggest problem is that the elderly are dying from shock, lack of medicine or heart attacks.

"It has become my new reality — shootings and bombings, helping old women out of the rubble, no gas, no water, no electricity," he said.

Ukraine and Russia have agreed to establish humanitarian corridors from the hardest-hit cities in the country since early March.

These humanitarian corridors must be undertaken "in an inclusive way" to ensure that information, transportation, and services are accessible to all, Amnesty International said.

Many people rely on televised addresses for emergency information from the Ukrainian government, but TV towers in the cities of Kharkiv and Izium have been damaged by strikes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Friday its staff was ready to support evacuation operations in the city of Mariupol — where some 170,000 people remain without power and have scant food, according to the mayor.

Several previous evacuation attempts have failed. Ukraine has accused Russian forces of blocking buses and aid from reaching the port of the city.

"The situation is horrendous and deteriorating. It is now a humanitarian imperative that people be allowed to leave and aid supplies be allowed in," ICRC spokesperson Ewan Watson said at a media briefing.

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Nato leaders have redoubled warnings for Russia not to use chemical weapons or worse in Ukraine. They also agreed to send 40,000 more troops to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia.

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