Ukraine: Head of Amnesty International chapter quits; Russia begins attack on eastern Ukraine cities

The head of Ukraine’s Amnesty International chapter quit Friday after the human rights organization released a report claiming Ukrainian forces put civilians in harms way by basing themselves in populated areas.

In a Facebook post made Friday night, Oksana Pokalchuk accused Amnesty International of failing to recognize the realities of war in Ukraine and ignoring the advice of local staff members, who urged the group to revise its report. 

“It is painful to admit, but I and the leadership of Amnesty International have split over values,” Pokalchuk wrote. “I believe that any work done for the good of society should take into account the local context, and think through consequences.”

The report, which drew the ire of top Ukrainian officials and Western scholars of international and military law, alleged that Ukrainian forces have violated international humanitarian laws by setting up bases and operating weapons systems in schools, hospitals and other populated areas.

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said in the report. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

Pokalchuk claimed that because Ukraine’s defense ministry was not given adequate time to respond to the report’s findings, the report had become a “tool of Russian propaganda.” Russian forces have justified attacks in civilian areas by suggesting that Ukrainian fighters had set up firing positions at the targeted locations.

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Ukrainian service members pack sandbags for fortification in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022.

Latest developments:

►Ukrainian military personnel are fortifying their positions around the eastern city of Sloviansk in expectation of a fresh Russian attempt to seize the strategic point in the fiercely fought-over Donetsk region.

►The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, said in a Friday assessment that Russian forces had increasingly transferred personnel and equipment from the Donbas toward southern Ukraine to push back at a Ukrainian counteroffensive around the occupied port city of Kherson.

Russia begins assault on two eastern Ukraine cities

Russian forces began an assault Saturday on two key cities in the eastern Donetsk region and kept up rocket and shelling attacks on other Ukrainian cities, including one close to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s military and local officials said.

Both cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka had been considered key targets of Russia’s ongoing offensive across Ukraine’s east, with analysts saying Moscow needs to take Bakhmut if it is to advance on the regional hubs of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

Russian shelling killed five civilians and injured 14 others in the Donetsk region in the last day, Donetsk governor Pavlo Kyrylenko wrote Saturday on Telegram. The governor of the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region, Valentyn Reznichenko, said three civilians were injured after Russian rockets fell on a residential neighborhood in Nikopol.

– Associated Press

Russia, Ukraine accuse each other of power plant attack 

Russia and Ukraine on Friday blamed each other for a shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is the largest of its kind in Europe. 

Ukraine’s state nuclear power company, Energoatom, said in a statement Friday that Russian forces fired on the plant and “created a humanitarian disaster in the city.” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his nightly address Friday also cast blame on Russia, suggesting the attack should be cause to increase sanctions on the country. 

“This is the largest nuclear power plant on our continent. And any shelling of this facility is an open, brazen crime, an act of terror,” Zelenskyy said. 

Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement that the attack was Ukraine’s doing. 

“Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident,” a ministry statement said, according to Reuters.

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War approaching ‘new phase,’ UK defence ministry says

The United Kingdom’s defence ministry said Saturday that Russia’s war in Ukraine is approaching a “new phase” as heavy fighting shifts to parallel the Dnieper River between Zaporizhzhya and Kherson.

The ministry said that Russian forces are moving southwest, away from Ukraine’s Donbas region, “almost certainly” in anticipation of a counter-offensive or possible assault by Ukraine. 

Ukrainian forces have zeroed in their targeting on bridges, ammunition depots and rail links, with “growing frequency” in the southern regions of Ukraine, the ministry said.

Ukraine grain shipments offer hope, food crisis fix

A ship bringing corn to Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli normally would not cause a stir. But it’s getting attention because of where it came from: Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa.

The Razoni, loaded with more than 26,000 tons of corn for chicken feed, is emerging from the edges of a Russian war that has threatened food supplies in countries like Lebanon, which has the world’s highest rate of food inflation – a staggering 122% – and depends on the Black Sea region for nearly all of its wheat.

The fighting has trapped 20 million tons of grains inside Ukraine, and the Razoni’s departure Monday marked a first major step toward extracting those food supplies and getting them to farms and bakeries to feed millions of impoverished people who are going hungry in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

“Actually seeing the shipment move is a big deal,” said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. “This 26,000 tons in the scale of the 20 million tons that are locked up is nothing, absolutely nothing … but if we start seeing this, every shipment that goes is going to increase confidence.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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