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Head of Amnesty International in Ukraine quits over controversial report

Oksana Pokalchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Branch of the Amnesty International human rights group, quit following the publication of the organisation’s report in which it accuses the Ukrainian Armed Forces of employing tactics that endanger the civilian population. The report also prompted Ukrainian officials to denounce it for what they perceive as equating the aggressor and the victim.

In a Facebook post published on Friday, Oksana Pokalchuk said that she opposed the report’s publication and understood that she could not get it changed or removed. According to Ms Polachuk, Amnesty International unwittingly “created material that sounded like support for Russian narratives of the invasion. In an effort to protect civilians, this study became a tool of Russian propaganda.”

“It pains me to admit it, but we disagreed with the leadership of Amnesty International on values. That’s why I decided to leave the organisation,” she wrote.

“We are sorry to hear that she is leaving the organisation, but we respect her decision and wish her well,” said Agnès Callamard, the organisation’s Secretary-General, commenting on Ms Polachuk’s resignation. Asked about the criticism of the report, the organisation said it was preparing a further statement.

The controversial report states that the Ukrainian forces are setting up military bases in residential areas, including schools and hospitals, and that they are launching attacks from populated civilian areas.

“Such violations in no way justify Russia’s indiscriminate attacks, which have killed and injured countless civilians,” says the report, but only two paragraphs of the report are dedicated to what the Russian forces are doing. The majority of the document focuses on the perceived shortcomings of the Ukrainian army.

Amnesty calls the Russian attacks indiscriminate, yet fails to see that that means civilians are at risk of falling victims to Russian brutality regardless of whether or not any Ukrainian forces are stationed nearby. In fact, Russians have numerous times struck civilian targets, including residential areas, which is hard to describe as anything else than a deliberate targetting of the civilian population in order to terrorise it.

Furthermore, Ukrainian officials say they take every possible measure to evacuate civilians from front-line areas. Ukrainian services have been engaged in evacuating civilians from Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk during Russia’s attack on the two cities, and recently an order was given to evacuate the civilian population of the parts of the Donetsk Region that remain under Ukrainian control.

In his nightly speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticised Amnesty International’s report for what he called “trying to shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim”. As he said, “ if there are such manipulative reports, then you share with them the responsibility for the killings of people.”

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said that the report’s focus on Ukrainian failings while almost entirely omitting the actions of Russian invasion forces “is like studying the actions of the victim without considering the actions of an armed rapist”.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he was “outraged” by the report. He urged Amnesty to “stop creating a false reality”.

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