Civilian casualties prompt human rights concerns on day two of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Civilian casualties prompt human rights concerns on day two of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spilled into its second day, bringing violent attacks to Kyiv and throughout Ukraine, civilian casualty figures surged, prompting expressions of concern from a variety of human rights groups. As of Friday, the UN Human Rights Office said it had been informed of at least 127 civilian casualties, but warned the true number is likely significantly higher.

“We have nowhere to run; the situation is tense everywhere. It’s difficult to get out of the region. And we can’t predict where they will bomb. In some cities they hit the city center, and in some — the suburbs,” said a local JURIST correspondent,* whose life as a Kharkiv law student was upended yesterday when Russian forces began a long-feared surge into Ukraine. She’s now with her family in Dnipro.

“We are on tenterhooks. We understand that the bombing won’t bypass us, but we don’t know exactly when it will begin. We are sitting at home but with all our bags packed, and with the windows to the children’s bedroom barricaded. Last night we slept in the entryway to our apartment with all our clothes on so we would be ready to run to the basement if anything happened. And in fact, I can’t really say we were able to sleep,” she said.

The correspondent’s fears come against the backdrop of stark warnings from Western and Ukrainian officials about civilian dangers.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russian forces of having targeted an orphanage and a kindergarten earlier Friday. “Today’s Russian attacks on a kindergarten and an orphanage are war crimes and violations of the Rome Statute. Together with the General Prosecutor’s Office we are collecting this and other facts, which we will immediately send to the Hague. Responsibility is inevitable,” Kuleba tweeted.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested the surging casualty figures include children killed by Russian rockets. “Russia’s actions against Ukraine are unconscionable. I spoke with … Kuleba about increasing reports of civilian deaths, including those of children, from Russian rocket launches. All who commit atrocities should be held to account,” he wrote via Twitter.

JURIST correspondents in the region reported witnessing attacks that appeared to target civilian objects.

A Kyiv law student flagged footage of smoke billowing from a residential complex that she said was hit by Russian forces. “Russians hit a [residential building] in the area nearby my dormitory. The thing is — it is an area without any strategic [ed: military or dual-use] objects. They are openly targeting civilians,” she reported.

A lawyer also based in the capital reported similarly that as Russian forces attacked his city, civilians were paying an outsized price. “The Russians are not following the rules of international humanitarian law,” he said.

UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet on Thursday urged respect for international humanitarian law, and warned: “The protection of the civilian population must be a priority. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas should – at all costs – be avoided,” Bachelet said.

Others have vowed to fight back — heeding a call from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry earlier Friday for civilians to make Molotov cocktails and take up arms.

“My friends in Kyiv have already prepared Molotov cocktails, and they are prepared to fight back,” a law student correspondent said.

Another correspondent, a young lawyer, said: “As a consequence of the current situation, the government has authorized civilians without military training to carry weapons. The citizens of Kyiv are arming themselves. The situation here is very hard; we have been heavily attacked, shelled, and bombed continuously from different directions. I get. the sense that today or tomorrow everyone will be mobilized to defend the city. And to me, it’s simple: either we stop them, or nothing else matters.”

*Due to ongoing security threats, our Ukrainian correspondents reporting from the field cannot be publicly named at this time.