Ukraine: Russian power grid attacks threaten civilians

(Kyiv, December 6, 2022) – The extensive and repeated targeting of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure by Russian forces appears to be aimed primarily at terrorizing the population in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. In October and November, and as winter approached, multiple Russian missile and drone attacks deprived millions of Ukrainian civilians of electricity, water, heat and related vital services.

According to the United Nations, at least 77 civilians were killed and 272 injured as a result of these attacks from October 10 to November 25. According to a statement by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) regarding the November 23 attacks, ” More than 30 civilians were killed or injured On that day, millions of people in Ukraine were deprived of electricity. According to the UN, about 3 million people of Kyiv did not have access to water that day, and some areas of Kyiv, Lviv, Zaporozhye and Odessa regions were completely without water.

Russia appears intent on terrorizing civilians and making their lives unsustainable by repeatedly targeting critical energy infrastructure, knowing it will deprive civilians of water, heat and health services. Yuliya Gorbunova, senior Ukrainian researcher of the Human Rights Watch organization, said. ” The approaching cold winter temperatures could have even more deadly effects, while Russia is determined to make life unbearable for as many Ukrainian citizens as possible.. »

The laws of war prohibit attacks on objects essential to the survival of civilians, as well as ” acts or threats of violence with the primary purpose of spreading terror among the civilian population “.

Many political leaders, lawmakers and state media commentators in Russia have welcomed the prospect of a winter without heat or water for peaceful residents of Ukraine. The Russian deputy said that Ukrainian citizens should do this rot and freeze » ; another said that the strikes were necessary to destroy Survival of the Ukrainian state ».

The average winter temperature in Ukraine is around minus 3 degrees Celsius and can drop to minus 20 degrees.

Human Rights Watch collected public information, analyzed reports and official statements from police and firefighters, and interviewed an energy company official, two energy experts, local authorities, emergency workers, and civilians in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Kherson, and Mykolaiv. , to paint a picture of the widespread and cumulative impact of attacks on the power grid. Human Rights Watch also visited the site of at least one of the attacks in November, which severely damaged civilian homes and killed civilians.

On November 16, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine announced that Russia organized 92 attacks against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in October and November. Oleksandr Kharchenko, director of the Energy Industry Research Center, an independent research and consulting firm, told Human Rights Watch that 10.7 million homes in Ukraine, nearly half of the country’s population, were without electricity due to Russia’s attacks.

According to a statement issued by DTEK, Ukraine’s largest private energy company, as of November 15, its facilities were attacked 13 times in a month and a half and suffered serious damage. The company said that 3 DTEK employees were killed and 22 people were injured in strikes organized by Russia in October and November. In response to a written request from Human Rights Watch, the company said that Russian attacks on energy infrastructure on October 10 alone damaged more than 40% of Ukraine’s energy system. .

Electrical infrastructure is designed for dual use – military and civilian – and can legitimately be targeted during an armed conflict. However, these attacks are subject to the laws of war, which prohibit indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. Human Rights Watch cannot assess the specific and direct military benefits that Russia might expect from attacks on Ukraine’s electricity and heat generation networks, and the actual military gains made through these attacks. However, the civilian toll was predictable, with the cumulative effect of each wave of strikes increasing in severity, including the ability of civilians to remain in Ukraine and survive the winter.

In his public statement, the regional director of the World Health Organization for Europe expressed serious concern about the fact that millions of Ukrainians are without electricity due to the drop in winter temperatures. He explained: ” Continued attacks on health and energy infrastructure mean that hundreds of hospitals and medical facilities are no longer fully operational due to lack of fuel, water and electricity to meet basic needs. “He added:” Cold weather can kill. […] This winter will be about survival. »

Full press release in English: online here.





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