(Kyiv, March 31, 2022) – Residents of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine have had limited access to running water, electricity or heating since early March 2022, when Russian forces stepped up their attack on the city, Human Rights Watch said today.
Since at least March 24, Russian troops have besieged Chernihiv and controlled almost all access to the city. They have also continued their attacks on the bridge, which is the last access route to the Ukrainian-held territory. This has hampered the evacuation of the wounded, including children, and the use of this road for the delivery and distribution of humanitarian supplies, including basic medical equipment, to the civilian population.
” Civilians in Chernihiv have been trapped for days in a deepening crisis, without access to basic services and unable to escape, while living under the constant threat of Russian attacks said Richard Weir, a researcher with Human Rights Watch’s Crisis and Conflict Division. ” Both Russian and Ukrainian armed forces must take the necessary steps to allow civilians who wish to leave the city safely and meet the basic needs of those left behind. »
Living conditions in Chernihiv are similar to those in the southeastern port city of Mariupol, where the situation worsened dramatically when residents holed up in basements without access to electricity, running water, electricity, heating, medical services or cell phone service during the siege by Russian troops.
On March 29, a deputy Russian defense minister stated that Russia ” reduce military activity near Kyiv, the capital, and Chernihiv. However, as of March 30, there appears to have been no significant reduction in military activity in and around the two cities. Military activities by any party should not indiscriminately impede the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to residents or the safe evacuation of civilians who choose to leave.
Human Rights Watch spoke to a community official, a doctor from Chernihiv, and a resident who recently fled the city. They described a worsening situation in which most parts of the city have had virtually no access to water, electricity, heating, telephone and internet connections for the past few days. . Water scarcity poses a particularly serious risk to the city’s approximately 130,000 residents, out of a pre-war population of nearly 300,000. Inadequate electricity supply also severely limits access to health care. The extent of civilian casualties and damage to the city’s infrastructure cannot be estimated due to ongoing hostilities and limited communications.
Chernihiv City Council secretary Olexander Lomako estimates that more than 350 civilians were killed in the attacks on the city. ” But these are very approximate figures. he told Human Rights Watch on March 30. ” Many people stay behind under the destroyed houses. People are often forced to bury their neighbors and relatives in the courtyards of their homes. So we can’t even count the exact number of victims. In addition, every day the wounded arrive in hospitals… Some will not survive their injuries and many of them will be disabled for life. Some have lost a leg, an eye or an arm. »
Russian military attacks on Chernihiv began on February 24, the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Human Rights Watch previously documented a Russian airstrike on a residential area of the city on March 3 that damaged several buildings, including a hospital, and killed and injured dozens of civilians, according to witnesses and doctors interviewed by Human Rights Watch, as well local officials. Since then, attacks on Chernihiv have intensified as Russian troops surrounded the city.
On the evening of March 23, the main bridge over the Desna River on the road leading south from Chernihiv towards Kyiv was destroyed. As a result, vehicle traffic to and from areas under Ukrainian control was halted while Russian forces controlled other major roads in and out of the city. On March 26, several Ukrainian and international journalists reporting on the destroyed bridge said that the area came under heavy artillery fire during their stay and one of them was wounded.
” This bridge allowed us to receive humanitarian aid and evacuate injured and peaceful civilians – women and children. ‘ said Olexander Lomako. ” Now only one bridge remains [piétonnisé]. and [quand] Nobody dares to cross them, the Russians [le] bomb. Human Rights Watch has no information about specific efforts to channel impartial humanitarian aid through Russian-controlled access routes and whether Russian forces have denied access.
Olexander Lomako said that the main problem for the residents who stayed in Chernihiv is the lack of water supply. They have had to use generators to pump water from wells, but there is not enough to support everyone and some have had to make do with water from rivers and lakes, or snow.
Vladyslaw Atroshenko, the mayor of Chernihiv, said at a press conference on March 26 that the city had been broken into pieces ” and that the authorities tried to evacuate through ” means everything » 44 people seriously injured, soldiers and civilians, including three children.
A doctor interviewed by Human Rights Watch on March 26 said his Chernihiv hospital only had power from its generators and the generators were out of fuel. In the current situation, the generators are expected to run four hours a day. ” We use this time to prepare formulas for the babies ‘ he explained. The generators do not provide enough power for hospital staff to properly operate medical equipment, such as the advanced X-ray machine that helps them assess injuries. Water scarcity has also caused problems. ” Since we have no electricity or water, we cannot sterilize our medical instruments and therefore have to use disposable kits “, he explained.
Ensuring access to electricity and clean water will be critical in preventing the spread of waterborne diseases through ingestion of contaminated water, Human Rights Watch said. Severe dehydration can lead to hypothermia, leg cramps, delirium, drop in blood pressure, organ failure and even death. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are most at risk from the effects of dehydration.
International humanitarian law, consisting of the laws of war, prohibits attacks against civilians and civilian objects, and attacks causing harm to civilians out of proportion to the anticipated military benefit. The laws of war do not prohibit land sieges and naval blockades by enemy forces, but do include tactics that deny civilians access to essential necessities such as water, food and medicine. Parties to the conflict must enable and facilitate, and not arbitrarily impede, the expeditious passage of impartial humanitarian assistance to all those in need.
In addition, all parties to an armed conflict must protect objects essential to the survival of civilians, including those needed for the distribution of water and sanitation. Starvation as a means of warfare is forbidden.
International human rights law requires States to respect the right to water, which includes refraining from restricting access to, or destroying, water supplies and infrastructure as a punitive measure in armed conflict, and meeting obligations to protect objects essential to the survival of the population civilian population described above. The parties to the conflict urgently need to ensure that the civilian population of Chernihiv and other areas affected by hostilities have access to water and electricity without discrimination or unlawful restrictions.
” Civilians held captive in Chernihiv are experiencing horrors similar to those in Mariupol in recent weeks concluded Richard Weir. ” You shouldn’t have to suffer like this. The parties to the conflict must assume their responsibility under international law and protect everyone who remained in Chernihiv. »