February 8, 2023

About 30,000 to 40,000 of Lysychansk’s pre-war population of about 100,000 are understood to have stayed, ensuring that Ukrainian troops sometimes shared apartment blocks and other buildings with civilians, many of whom hoped they would fail.

The Russians “bombed schools, technical schools, ‘Silpo’ stores and so on,” said Mikhailo, a resident of an apartment complex in Lysychansk who gave only his first name to avoid retaliation. “Ukrainian military settlements were bombed everywhere, everything was destroyed.”

Russian officials have claimed they would not attack civilian areas, but Ukrainian and international investigators say they have irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Ukrainian politicians and human rights defenders, as well as international scholars, argue that Ukrainian soldiers are largely forced to defend territory from Russian attack.

“There is absolutely no position, no equipment, not even a single soldier, near a school, hospital, kindergarten, church or museum to protect them from Russian airlift, artillery, tanks, incendiary bombs or cartridges,” Roman said. Roman Avramenko, head of TruthHounds, an NGO investigating war crimes, wrote on Facebook. “The presence of civilians has never stopped the Russians from attacking these objects.”

Others point to well-documented atrocities committed by Russian troops in urban areas.

“In hundreds of occupied cities, towns and villages, what we saw in Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel is happening now,” said Olha Reshetylova of the Ukrainian advocacy group Human Rights Media Initiative, referring to the suburbs of Kyiv that have become barbaric synonym. “So I don’t want Ukrainian troops to leave my city.”

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