Russia, Ukraine accuse each other of using civilians as human shields

Russia accused Ukraine of carrying out ethnic cleansing and of allowing "Nazis" to shoot at civilians while they try to flee.

 A man stands on the rubble of a house destroyed by recent shelling during Ukraine-Russia conflict in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 7, 2022. (photo credit: Oleksandr Lapshyn/Reuters)
A man stands on the rubble of a house destroyed by recent shelling during Ukraine-Russia conflict in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 7, 2022.
(photo credit: Oleksandr Lapshyn/Reuters)

Russia has accused Ukraine of utilizing foreigners and civilians as human shields against Russian forces during the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, preventing them from evacuating and even threatening them with physical violence, despite Ukrainian reports to the contrary, with Kyiv accusing Russian troops of using human shields as well.

In a letter written to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) by Russian Representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich, Russia accuses the "criminal actions of the Kyiv regime and nationalist armed groups" of having brought the humanitarian situation in Ukraine to a crisis.

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Kyiv, Lukashevich explains, refuses to take effective means to evacuate civilians and stop what they call nationalists "who continue to use the population as a 'human shield.'"

The letter cites the curfews in place throughout Ukraine, the destruction of bridges and the mining of city exits.

"Tens of thousands of people, including foreigners, have been turned into hostages, and officials... do not help organize humanitarian corridors," the letter states. 

 Civilians who volunteered to join the Territorial Defense Forces train on weapons, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Odessa, Ukraine, March 7, 2022. (credit: ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS/REUTERS) Civilians who volunteered to join the Territorial Defense Forces train on weapons, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Odessa, Ukraine, March 7, 2022. (credit: ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS/REUTERS)

It further refers to the mobilized defensive fighters, the Territorial Defense Force, as "criminal gangs" that were "created with the participation and guidance of the so-called NATO military advisers and instructors."

The letter also accused Ukraine of violating ceasefires that were meant to allow civilians to evacuate.

Recently, Ukraine announced the establishment of humanitarian corridors from Sumy, Kharkiv, Kherson and Kyiv to help civilians evacuate. 

But Russia is contesting Ukraine's statement, saying their words do not match the reality of the ground, and has even accused Kyiv of creating camps for dissidents. 

By contrast, as Lukashevich notes, Russia has opened several humanitarian corridors. Notably, however, these corridors allow Ukrainian civilians to only evacuate to Russia.

The letter continues to accuse Ukraine along with the Azov Battalion of plotting a false flag attack on a nuclear reactor in Kharkiv, as well as accusing Kyiv of plotting a US-funded biological weapons program. However, the validity of Russian claims of clandestine bioweapon programs in Ukraine have been slammed by Western officials in the past, with US State Department spokesperson Ned Price calling the claims "entirely false."

The Azov Battalion is also accused by Russia of installing mines and killing civilians attempting to flee. Further, Ukrainian "Nazis," as Lukashevich refers to them, are accused of firing on civilians of Indian descent, plotting to kill Iraqi nationals and blame Russia for it and preventing the evacuation of foreigners, particularly those with dark skin - including from Israel.

Russia's Foreign Ministry backed this up with a clip of what it claims are African students barred from leaving Sumy.

"All people without Ukrainian passports are being taken away to an unknown destination," Lukashevich wrote, accusing Ukrainians of carrying out ethnic cleansing.

Lukashevich also criticized Western arms shipments to Ukraine, specifically of various high-precision anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons such as the Javelin, NLAW and Stingers. 

"The organizers of these deliveries cannot fail to realize the growing threat of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorist elements and bandits," he wrote.

"We once again call on the EU and NATO countries to stop thoughtlessly 'pumping' the Kyiv regime with the latest weapons in order to avoid colossal danger... not only in Europe, but also beyond."

He contrasts this with what he claims are Russia's conduct towards fleeing civilians as well as what he described as extensive humanitarian aid efforts for Ukraine.

He called for the OSCE to "exert the maximum pressure on the Kyiv regime without delay to stop such criminal practices that violate international humanitarian law," and then added that Russia will continue to accept refugees without visas before they can eventually leave for their home countries.

Lukashevich concluded by stressing Russia's desire for dialogue to resolve the conflict and criticizing attempts to stretch out the negotiation process.

Much of Lukashevich's remarks can be seen as Russia's attempt to discredit Ukrainian resistance. Moscow has previously justified its invasion as an effort to "de-Nazify" its neighbor. However, much of the world has responded harshly to Russia's actions and have been quick to criticize President Vladimir Putin for his actions.

Regarding the humanitarian corridors, Russia and Ukraine have reportedly come to an agreement regarding the evacuation of civilians from Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol, as reported by Interfax.

However, Ukraine has indeed rejected attempts by Moscow to allow for evacuations only into Russia and Belarus.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk demanded that the corridors lead West, away from most of the fighting, and both sides are said to be suspicious of the process due to past violations.

Further, Ukraine has accused Russian forces of using Ukrainian civilians as human shields, both in terms of using evacuating civilians to stop Ukrainians from shooting and by setting up their troops and equipment in residential areas, Ukrainian Internal Affairs Ministry adviser Vadym Denysenko said, according to Pravda.

Ukraine further called on Russia to abide by its ceasefire commitments during evacuations.

Millions of refugees have already evacuated out of Ukraine, but the country continues to hold out against the Russian invasion. 

This has seen the civilian populace mobilized against the invading army, as well as the establishment of an international legion for foreign volunteers.

Michael Starr and Reuters contributed to this report.