Russia’s Attacks on Civilian Targets Have Obliterated Everyday Life in Ukraine

 Russia’s Attacks on Civilian Targets Have Obliterated Everyday Life in Ukraine


In the weeks since Russia began its invasion, at least 1,500 civilian buildings, structures and vehicles in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed. More than 953 civilians have been killed, including at least 78 children, according to the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, who noted that the real toll was likely to be considerably higher.

The map above shows some of the buildings and other civilian infrastructure attacked in the first weeks of the war. This devastation, identified and cataloged by The New York Times, included at least 23 hospitals and other health-care infrastructure, 330 schools, 27 cultural buildings, 98 commercial buildings, including at least 11 related to food or agriculture, and 900 houses and apartment buildings.

The Times examined thousands of verified photos and videos; descriptions and visual evidence from official announcements from Ukrainian military and government agencies; and reporting from Times journalists and wire photographers working on the ground. Because of the difficulties in getting comprehensive reporting of events in wartime, the tallies are undercounts. But the breadth of evidence identified by The Times shows how, in just a few weeks, normal everyday life for many people in Ukraine has been obliterated as Russia is investigated for potential war crimes.

A damaged hallway.

School in Kyiv

Children’s tables covered in debris and art.

School in Kharkiv

Wreckage inside a retail store.

Shopping mall in Kyiv

Broken windows in a classroom.

School in Byshiv, Kyiv

A destroyed car in front of two houses full of holes.

Houses in Byshiv, Kyiv

A man sits between broken houses.

House in Malyn, Zhytomyr

A man sits in a room with a Jesus tapestry behind and debris in front.

Church in Malyn, Zhytomyr

Workers in hardhats pick through wreckage.

Apartment in Kharkiv

One half of a school building.

School in Zhytomyr

A church building with broken onion-shaped domes.

Church in Malyn, Zhytomyr

Two men stand in front of a bush with a spiderwebbed windshield.

Buses in Novoiavorivsk, Lviv

A burnt out rectangular building with colorful markings.

School in Kharkiv

Collapsed sports bleachers.

Stadium in Chernihiv

An armored vehicle with ‘Z’ markings in front of a burned apartment building.

Apartment in Volnovakha, Donetsk

Religious artwork on the floor in broken frames.

Church in Zhytomyr

Rubble.

Car wash in Baryshivka, Kyiv

A green room with broken glass and damaged child-sized chairs.

School in Kyiv

A green bus and white taxi, both with major damage.

Trolleybus in Kyiv

A man stands in front of metallic-looking wreckage.

Heating plant in Zhytomyr

A building missing its upper middle section.

Hotel in Chernihiv

Emergency workers inside a smoky space surrounded by twisted metal curves.

Food storage in Brovary, Kyiv

Damaged and burning yellow houses.

House in Kyiv

A damaged building.

Apartments in Kyiv

A damaged restaurant. Part of the ceiling has fallen down. Bottled drinks are stacked on tables.

Restaurant in Kyiv

Two women hug in front of a burned building.

Apartments in Kyiv

A burning apartment building.

Apartments in Kyiv

A galley-style home kitchen, with one wall broken open.

Kitchen in Mykolaiv

Two emergency workers stand on a giant pile of onions. The air is smoky and part of the wall is open.

Onion warehouse in Mykolaiv

A satellite image of a burning triangular building.

Grocery store in Hostomel, Kyiv

A woman walks by collapsed houses.

Residential street in Mykolaiv

A building-shaped fire burning at night.

Apartment in Mariupol

Red-shingled houses with their roofs falling off.

Homes in Chernihiv

A man cleans a computer monitor in a high-rise apartment. One wall of the apartment is missing and open to the elements.

Apartment in Kyiv

With the beginning of the invasion came aggressive airstrikes against military and government buildings and airports in Ukraine. Soon after, Russia appeared to shift many of its attacks to highly populated areas with important civilian infrastructure.

Russian attacks have damaged preschools, post offices, museums, sports facilities and factories. Power and gas lines have been severed; bridges and railway stations blown up. At least 10 houses of worship have become targets, including a now-crumpled church in Malyn.

Civilians have been killed in their cars. Remnants of a missile were found in a zoo. At least one war memorial in the small city of Bucha took gunfire. A car wash in Baryshivka, east of Kyiv, was reduced to rubble. Onions spilled from a warehouse that was destroyed in Mykolaiv, where several residential neighborhoods have been shelled to pieces and the morgue has overflowed with bodies.







In Mariupol, residents have been subjected to an unending onslaught by Russian forces, and bodies are being buried in mass graves. Last week, an adviser to the city government said that the official death toll was 2,400 civilians, well above the conservative estimate given by the U.N. The next day, Russian forces bombed the city’s Drama Theater, where hundreds of people had been sheltering, most likely increasing the toll. The word “children” was written in Russian in giant letters on the pavement on both sides of the building, clearly visible from the sky.

A damaged, dark room with an incubator and crib.

Maternity hospital

A satellite image of a large destroyed building in a courtyard.

Drama Theater

A fireball explosion on the corner of an apartment building.

Apartment

A spiderwebbed window with a circular hole in the center.

Hospital

A white-coated person walks through a pastel-colored hallway. Walls, doors and ceilings are broken; wires hang to the floor.

Hospital

A giant crater.

Commercial area

A small church in the middle of a field of debris.

Church

A man walks by a shell of rectangle burnt windows.

Residential apartments

Firefighters gesture at a burning building.

Warehouse

Using satellite imagery, The Times observed at least 391 buildings with evidence of damage in a Mariupol area dotted with schools and health facilities. An analysis of photos, videos and reports from the ground found that at least 69 civilian structures in the city have become targets, including at least one church. Visual evidence and reports from Mariupol have been especially limited because the city has been bombarded by Russian forces for weeks.

The top prosecutor at the International Criminal Court has opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Under international humanitarian law, combatants and commanders are supposed to take steps to minimize harm to civilians or “civilian objects,” like homes, buildings, other infrastructure or vehicles that are not being used for military purposes. In some cases, they are supposed to warn the occupants ahead of an attack.

Depending on the circumstances of an attack, targeting civilian structures or indiscriminately bombing densely populated areas could be violations of law, said Laurie Blank, a clinical professor of law at Emory University.



Cluster warhead rocket outside an apartment building.

@LastBP via Telegram

Videos and photos from Ukraine indicate that Russian forces have used cluster munitions in populated civilian neighborhoods. Some countries have agreed not to use the weapons under a treaty because they are imprecise and sometimes leave unexploded submunitions, which can pose a lasting threat to people in the area. Russia and Ukraine have not signed the treaty, but use of the munitions in populated areas may be seen as an indiscriminate attack.

International law experts cautioned that photos and videos of ruined schools and other institutions do not necessarily prove that a war crime or crime against humanity has been committed. Details of each instance must be investigated thoroughly, including the intent of an attack and the circumstances surrounding the event. (For example, if a school or a grocery store was being used as a military staging ground, it could potentially be considered a justified target according to international law.)

“There is only so much we can learn from photographs,” said Alexandra Meise, an associate teaching professor at Northeastern University School of Law. “As much as a photograph is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, a photograph cannot necessarily tell you intent or the legitimacy of a military objective.”

Still, experts said that documenting damage to civilian infrastructure could be an important first step in investigating potential violations of law and in telling the story of hardships faced by civilians on the ground.







In the region of Kharkiv, home to Ukraine’s second-largest city, government officials have said that more than 60 schools have been damaged after relentless shelling.

Firefighters spray water on a burning building.

Barabashova market

A pink room full of small beds. Some of the ceiling panels have fallen down.

School

An apartment building with one wall opened, as if it were a dollhouse.

Apartment building

The interior of a bus with a blasted hole in the roof.

Tram

A damaged building.

Sports complex

Crushed trams.

Tram depot

A stylish cafe with broken windows and debris.

Cafe

A living room that has been blasted open.

Apartment

A man holds crates in front of a damaged, modern-looking building.

Apartment building

Leila Sadat, professor of international law at Washington University in St. Louis and special adviser to the International Criminal Court prosecutor since 2012, said that the pattern of widespread attacks involving civilian structures should be investigated to see if there were violations of law.

Ms. Sadat said the burden of proof to show that a structure was a justified military target and that the attack was proportionate should be on the aggressor. It would not be enough, for example, to argue that soldiers were present in a building or even that a structure was being used by both civilians and military personnel, she said.

“And to the extent that we’re seeing strikes on a daily basis,” she said, “that’s just, at best, a level of carelessness that is incompatible with proper conduct of a war under humanitarian law.”

There have been at least 62 confirmed attacks on health care personnel and health-related infrastructure, like hospitals and ambulances, in Ukraine, according to data provided by the World Health Organization. These have resulted in at least 15 deaths and dozens of injuries.

The Times identified by location at least 23 health care facilities and vehicles that have been damaged during the invasion. This included a maternity hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol that was bombed, killing at least three people, according to government officials, including at least one child.

Despite photographs and video of the blasted-out hospital in Mariupol, including footage of victims of the bombing and corroboration by the United Nations, Russian officials denied having hit it, or alternatively said it had not been used as a hospital.

One image, a pregnant woman lying on a stretcher, carried by men across fallen branches with a smoldering hospital in the background, appeared on the front pages of newspapers, including The Times.

The Associated Press, one of the few news organizations that, at the time, was able to send dispatches from Mariupol, reported later that both she and her baby had died.

How we reported this article

The Times collected and cross-referenced data on attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, defined as nonmilitary infrastructure, primarily from these sources:

Announcements in social media posts and press releases by Ukrainian military and government agencies.

Pictures taken by photographers for The Times, Getty Images, Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press, Reuters or the European Pressphoto Agency.

Video clips from social media that have been verified by The Times’s Visual Investigations unit.

Interviews with witnesses and residents; on the ground observation; and other reporting by Times journalists in Ukraine.

Reports by nongovernmental organizations.

Photographs and video by Ivor Prickett for The New York Times; State Emergency Service of Ukraine via Telegram; Oleksandr Lapshyn/Reuters; Felipe Dana/AP; @ua_industrial via Twitter; Thomas Peter/Reuters; Miguel A Lopes/EPA; Andrew Marienko/AP; Reuters; Anadolu agency via Reuters; Pravda Gerashchenko via Telegram; Dan Kitwood/Getty Images; Chernihiv Regional State Administration via EPA-EFE; Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters; Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine via Facebook; @aldin_ww via Twitter; Efrem Lukatsky/AP; Oleh Holovatenko/Reuters; Vadim Ghirda/AP; Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images; Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images; Illia Ponomarenko via Twitter; Tyler Hicks/The New York Times; NEXTA via Twitter; Maxar Technologies; Evgeniy Maloletka/AP; Nataliia Dubrovska/EPA; Serhii Nuzhnenko/AP; Ukraine Joint Forces Operation via Facebook; @AyBurlachenko via Twitter; Yurii Kochubei via AP; and Vasiliy Zhlobsky/EPA.



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