UN says 36 civil­ians died in fight­ing over Ilo­vaisk

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OK­SANA GRYTSENKO [email protected]

As Ukraine pre­pares to mark in late Au­gust the fourth an­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Ilo­vaisk, the blood­i­est episode of Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine, the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Mon­i­tor­ing Mis­sion in Ukraine has is­sued the first-ever es­ti­mate of the civil­ian death toll from the fight­ing in the bat­tle.

At least 36 civil­ians, in­clud­ing 18 men and 18 women, were killed in and around Ilo­vaisk in Au­gust 2014, ac­cord­ing to a UN re­port pre­sented on Aug. 9.

The re­port says that 11 res­i­dents were killed in the pe­riod from Aug. 7 to Aug. 18, when Ilo­vaisk was com­pletely un­der the con­trol of Rus­sian-led forces, while 25 more res­i­dents were killed be­tween Aug. 19–28, when con­trol of the town was split be­tween Ukrainian troops and Rus­sian-led fight­ers.

An­other five civil­ians were killed from Aug. 27 to Aug. 29 be­tween the towns of Kom­so­molske and Osykove. At that point, Ukraine’s sol­diers were re­treat­ing from Ilo­vaisk un­der shelling at­tack by Rus­sian reg­u­lar army forces.

With­out giv­ing an over­all to­tal of the wounded, the UN said 83 civil­ians were in­jured in Ilo­vaisk on Aug. 7, when the town suf­fered a mas­sive shelling at­tack. At least 20 civil­ians were per­ma­nently dis­abled as a re­sult of in­juries they re­ceived dur­ing the fight­ing, the UN re­port said.

“When there’s an in­crease of shelling it’s the civil­ians who pay the high­est price. And we see this here,” Fiona Frazer, the head of the UN Hu­man Rights Mon­i­tor­ing Mis­sion in Ukraine, told the Kyiv Post in an in­ter­view.

Cru­cial bat­tle

Ilo­vaisk, a for­merly ob­scure town in Donetsk Oblast some 620 kilo­me­ters south­east of Kyiv, which had a pre­war pop­u­la­tion of 16,000 peo­ple, be­came the epi­cen­ter of a cru­cial bat­tle due to it be­ing the lo­ca­tion of a strate­gic rail­way junc­tion. The bat­tle for the town, which saw Rus­sia send reg­u­lar troops into Ukraine to aid its proxy forces in the coun­try, changed the course of the war.

The town was to have been the jump­ing-off point from which Ukrainian army units and vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions would have started the lib­er­a­tion of the city of Donetsk, the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, and a strong­hold of Rus­sian-led forces. But the Ukrainian mil­i­tary’s poor or­ga­ni­za­tion of the op­er­a­tion and the di­rect in­volve­ment of Rus­sian reg­u­lar troops in the con­flict led to a cat­a­strophic de­feat for Ukraine, with 366 Ukrainian sol­diers be­ing killed there ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial count.

How­ever, UN rep­re­sen­ta­tives, hav­ing con­ducted more than 80 in­ter­views with ca­su­al­ties and wit­nesses of the fight­ing in Ilo­vaisk, es­ti­mate that many more Ukrainian sol­diers were killed. The UN found the es­ti­mates of the Mem­ory Book, a ci­ti­zen vol­un­teer project that col­lects in­for­ma­tion about Ukrainian sol­diers killed in bat­tle, which recorded the deaths of around 700 Ukrainian sol­diers in the Don­bas in Au­gust 2014, were closer to its own count.

“There are no hid­den thou­sands of killed,” said Uladz­imir Shcherbau, the UN hu­man rights of­fi­cer who pre­pared the re­port.

Daily shelling

From early Au­gust 2014, Ilo­vaisk was shelled ev­ery day, so the up to 13,000 civil­ians who lived in the city at the time had to take shel­ter at the local school, kinder­garten, com­mu­nity cen­ter and rail­way sta­tion. From mid-Au­gust, the town had no wa­ter, gas, or elec­tric­ity sup­plies. All of its res­i­den­tial houses were dam­aged. More­over, 200 res­i­dents of the vil­lage of Hrab­ske, lo­cated near Ilo­vaisk, had to seek refuge from the shelling in a nearby monastery.

Af­ter the hospi­tal in Ilo­vaisk was bombed early on Aug. 8, the res­i­dents had to go for med­i­cal help to local doc­tors’ and nurses’ homes, or seek help from mil­i­tary doc­tors.

Killed and tor­tured

While in most cases the Ukrainian sol­diers po­si­tioned in the town tried to help the civil­ians, the UN re­port cited at least five cases in which civil­ians were killed by sol­diers, or in which sol­diers caused civil­ian deaths.

Af­ter Ukrainian forces with­drew from Ilo­vaisk in late Au­gust, the res­i­dents found a grave con­tain­ing the bod­ies of three peo­ple in the yard of school No. 14, where the Don­bas Ukrainian vol­un­teer bat­tal­ion had been based.

Iden­ti­fy­ing bod­ies

One of them was a local man, Va­len­tyn Minich, who stayed to look af­ter his house af­ter his wife left the city. Fight­ers from the Don­bas Bat­tal­ion ac­cused Minich of help­ing Rus­sian-led troops tar­get Ukrainian po­si­tions in the city, and first tor­tured and then ex­e­cuted him, the UN re­port said.

An­other man was Ihor Tr­u­fanov, who had been hid­ing with his wife in the base­ment of the rail­way de­pot when sol­diers of Don­bas and Dnipro vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions de­tained him. Tr­u­fanov was also ac­cused of help­ing the Rus­sian-led forces when Ukrainian sol­diers found that he was car­ry­ing a cell phone. His body was found in a mass grave with bul­let wounds in his stom­ach and chest.

The third body found in the grave was that of Ser­hiy My­ro­nenko, who was de­tained at a Ukrainian check­point and brought to school No. 14 for in­ter­ro­ga­tion. He was killed in a shelling at­tack while he was de­tained in the school. Two Ukraini­ans vol­un­teer sol­diers were also killed in the same shelling at­tack.

Two other civil­ians killed in Ilo­vaisk were Luid­myla Hor­benko and Va­leriy Kolesniche­nko, a cou­ple who were hid­ing from shelling in a house lo­cated next to the rail­way line — the area where the fight­ing was most in­tense. Neigh­bors who found the bod­ies said the cou­ple had been shot dead but that their bod­ies also bore signs of tor­ture.

The neigh­bors said they didn’t know who had killed Hor­benko and Kolesniche­nko. Since the vic­tims’ house is lo­cated in an area that was held by first one side and then the other, the UN wasn’t able to de­ter­mine which side was re­spon­si­ble for their deaths.

Search for the guilty

The UN said the ex­e­cu­tions of civil­ians in Ilo­vaisk were “not mas­sive or sys­tem­atic,” and that only two cases were def­i­nitely at­trib­uted to Ukrainian sol­diers.

“(The killings were) com­mit­ted in the con­text of the bat­tal­ions be­ing in­volved in fight­ing, and killing two civil­ians whom they prob­a­bly be­lieved were en­e­mies,” Shcherbau said. “But that doesn’t re­duce the (se­ri­ous­ness) of this act.”

He added that it would never be too late for the Ukrainian gov-

ern­ment to start in­ves­ti­gat­ing these cases. Frazer added that any fu­ture peace process would re­quire Ukraine to face the truth about such crimes.

“The is­sue of ac­count­abil­ity is very im­por­tant when you look fur­ther down the line to peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” she said.

Sol­diers who fought in Ilo­vaisk ad­mit­ted in in­ter­views to the Kyiv Post that the Rus­sian-back fight­ers and civil­ians sus­pected of help­ing the Rus­sians had been im­pris­oned in part of school No. 14.

The UN re­port said that at times up to 20 peo­ple were kept in a small room in the school. How­ever, when the Ukrainian sol­diers were leav­ing Ilo­vaisk they re­leased all of the cap­tive civil­ians.

Rus­sian crimes

The UN also re­ported that three Ukrainian sol­diers were prob­a­bly killed by a Rus­sian army lieu­tenant early on Aug. 29 af­ter they were taken as prison­ers. How­ever, as the re­port was based solely on the tes­ti­mony of other sol­diers who were also taken pris­oner but sur­vived, the re­port records the deaths only as prob­a­ble killings.

The re­port also in­di­cated that the Rus­sian forces likely fin­ished off sev­eral wounded Ukrainian sol­diers ly­ing in a field near the vil­lage of No­vokateryni­vka. One Ukrainian mil­i­tary doc­tor was also re­port­edly ab­ducted by the Rus­sian forces in the vil­lage of Cher­vonosilske on Aug. 30. He was put in the back of a mil­i­tary truck and never seen again, the re­port said.

Sev­eral Ukrainian sol­diers also told UN rep­re­sen­ta­tives in an in­ter­view that Rus­sian reg­u­lar army sol­diers tor­tured them af­ter cap­tur­ing them, in­clud­ing by beat­ing them and depriv­ing them of drink­ing wa­ter.

Four Ukrainian sol­diers died from wounds af­ter be­ing cap­tured by Rus­sian forces be­cause they were not given the nec­es­sary med­i­cal help, the UN re­port said.

False de­nials

The Bat­tle of Ilo­vaisk was the first known case of Rus­sian reg­u­lar troops be­ing di­rectly in­volved in the fight­ing in Ukraine, with the war then seen in Ukraine and abroad not to be a “civil war” but an in­ter­na­tional con­flict be­tween Ukraine and Rus­sia.

While more than a dozen Rus­sian sol­diers were cap­tured in the fight­ing, hun­dreds of Ukrainian sol­diers said they had also spo­ken to Rus­sian sol­diers, rec­og­niz­ing their Rus­sian mil­i­tary uni­forms and Rus­sian ar­mored ve­hi­cles. Jour­nal­ists in Rus­sia have found dozens of graves of Rus­sian sol­diers, with the dates of their deaths co­in­cid­ing with the pe­riod in which the Bat­tle of Ilo­vaisk was be­ing fought.

An anony­mous open data inves- tiga­tor, who goes by the name of Askai707 on the In­ter­net, has also col­lected com­plete per­sonal data on Rus­sian sol­diers who fought at Ilo­vaisk, prov­ing that at least 26 Rus­sian reg­u­lar troops were killed there.

Nev­er­the­less, the UN re­port fails to di­rectly name Rus­sia as a side in the war. It only notes Ukraine’s of­fi­cial claim that Rus­sia sent troops into Ukraine, and Rus­sia’s of­fi­cial de­nials — even though there is over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence that the Krem­lin’s de­nials are false.

“Our work is based on our find­ings from the hu­man rights per­spec­tive. We ac­knowl­edge the of­fi­cial views of both Ukraine and the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion,” Frazer said.

A woman push­ing her bi­cy­cle walks past a non-ex­ploded rocket in Ilo­vaisk, 50 Kilo­me­ters south­east of Donetsk, on Septem­ber 4, 2014. Rus­sia on Septem­ber 4 ac­cused Washington of un­der­min­ing peace ef­forts in Ukraine, say­ing the United States sup­ported a pro-war po­lit­i­cal party in Kiev. AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ukraine

© PressReader. All rights reserved.