Who is responsible for thousands of civilian victims in the Donbass War in Eastern Ukraine?
More than 13,000 people died in the Donbass conflict in Eastern Ukraine. That can be heard again and again, from both sides. But how large is the proportion of civilian victims and, above all, which party to the conflict is responsible for them?
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights updated the number of civilian victims in the Donbass conflict on 14 November. According to the report, 3,345 civilians were killed and over 9,000 wounded, and 1.3 million people became internally displaced persons.
In recent years, the UN has updated these figures on a quarterly basis in its reports on the human rights situation in Ukraine. The latest report was issued by the organization on 17 September. Together with the passengers of the Malaysian Boeing, flight MH17, which was shot down with a rocket on 17 July 2014, there were at least 3,345 deaths.
Victims have been documented since 14 April 2014. On this day the Ukrainian interim president Alexander Turtschinov ordered the so-called anti-terrorist operation and sent the army with tanks to the area in Eastern Ukraine. He and his government came to power as a result of the bloody riots on the Kiev Maidan.
The deployment of the Ukrainian army in residential areas since April 2014 has been unconstitutional and has contributed significantly to the escalation. Images from the initial phase of the conflict of civilians standing against the tanks became famous. In this initial phase, the soldiers were reluctant to fight.
In April and May, the whole region was changing, with activists trying to replace Ukrainian administrative bodies with institutions from the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk and Lugansk. On 11 May they held a referendum on independence on the territory of the republics. As the threat of war increased, more and more volunteers joined the militia.
There were much more insurgents after the events on 2 May in Odesa, hundreds of kilometres away from Donbass, when dozens of supporters of federalisation and opponents of the coup d’état were murdered as a result of a manhunt before the eyes of the inactive police in the trade union building there.
At the beginning of June, the major offensive of the Ukrainian army began and numerous air attacks were launched against the civilian population. Large-scale, indiscriminate fire against residential areas and civilian infrastructure with the use of multiple rocket launcher systems, howitzers and mortars became common practice in Ukrainian warfare. According to the UNO, 1,135 civilians died in this war from 16 May to 15 August. During this time, the local militia received a larger influx of volunteers from Russia.
During the strongest escalation of the war, which lasted until February 2015, 80 per cent of civilians died, according to the UNO. The fighting continued even after the signing of the Minsk Accords in January 2015. In 2018 and 2019 the number of victims was comparatively low. Nevertheless, even a “low-intensity” war still claims human lives. As many areas are mined, the number of mine victims recorded in UN statistics is increasing.
Since its outbreak, the Donbass war has also been an example of manipulation and propaganda. It does not, however, helps to identify “objective” information when “every side makes propaganda”. After all, it is more important to look at facts and figures.
By which party causes more civilian deaths?
The UN and the OSCE have relatively accurate data on the victims of the conflict. But at one point they remain silent – which army is actually more responsible for dead and injured civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure? Differentiation is only made in the latest reports – but only since the number of victims (fortunately) fell. The document for the period from 16 May to 16 August 2019 reads as follows:
“There were 68 civilian victims (35 men, 24 women, three boys and six girls). 56 of them were caused by fighting. Of these, 33 victims were registered in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and 13 in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed “Lugansk People’s Republic”, all of which could have been caused by actions of the Government of Ukraine. Nine victims were registered in the territory controlled by the Government of Ukraine, one on ‘no man’s land’, and all these victims could have been caused by armed groups of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”. (…) The total number of civilian deaths due to the conflict as of 15 August 2019 was at least 3,339.”
The UN uses the term “victim” for both the dead and the injured. The reference to the suspected culprits results in a ratio of 22 to 78 per cent. Other reports also show a similar or even more blatant ratio, according to which up to 90 per cent of the victims are to be attributed to the shelling by Ukraine. According to the Human Rights Ombudsman Daria Morozova, this indicates not only frequent violations of the ceasefire by Ukraine, but also non-compliance with established international standards, which claim that no objects of civilian infrastructure be attacked. According to Morozova, these are unfair and dirty methods of Ukrainian warfare.
“Our civilian population is killed by shelling of Ukraine. I very often cite examples and raise the following subject in Minsk: let us compare the figures on children killed in Ukraine and in the Donetsk People’s Republic or in the Lugansk People’s Republic! Show me these numbers,” she said in an interview to RT.”
The rest of the victims in this war have approximately equal ratio between fighters and soldiers of the opposing armed forces – the people’s militia on the one hand, the Ukrainian troops and the battalions of nationalists on the other – so that the total number of people killed in the war, according to the UN, is about 13,000. According to the Human Rights Ombudsman Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic, there are 4,881 people who have died in the war in the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic, including 81 children. These statistics also include the People’s Militia, which, as Morozova explains, consists largely of civilians who took up arms as a result of the conflict.
Since the breakdown in victim groups and methods of Ukrainian warfare is not an issue in the Western media, it is easy for politicians to fall for propaganda or deliberately manipulate the figures. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, then CDU Secretary-General, said on 2 December 2018 in the Anne Will programme in front of millions of viewers that 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died in the Donbass conflict.
She did not mention the civilian victims of these soldiers. By embezzling the facts and propaganda, the aggressor becomes the victim in the twinkling of an eye. It will, however, take some time for all the data, including those on actual perpetrators, to be collected. Without having clarified the question of responsibility, it will not be possible to come to terms with the crimes that have been committed and thus to make progress in the peace process.
Source: RT Deutsch