Firearms attacks during the Russo-Ukrainian war
In the temporarily occupied and frontline areas of Ukraine, Russian soldiers have frequently used firearms against the civilian population. In the vast majority of cases, they deliberately targeted individuals: the guilty party was aware of what he was doing and intended, or consciously embraced the possibility of, negative consequences for the targeted party — that’s to say he was acting deliberately.
The presence of intent distinguishes this group of actions from other war crimes, including the non-selective firing of shots when the guilty party only embraces the possibility of negative consequences but cannot envisage them with certainty regarding a particular victim. This is why shots from firearms are classified among the most severe of war crimes.
In the period from 24 February up to and including 9 August 2022 the Tribunal for Putin (T4P) coalition documented the following war crimes committed using firearms [and see the appropriate Articles of the Rome Statute]:
- The deliberate killing of civilians [Articles 7:1 (a) & 8:2 (a) i].
- The deliberate infliction of bodily harm on civilians [Article 8:2 (a) iii].
- The destruction of or damage to property [Article 8:2 (b) iv].
Altogether the T4P coalition identified 367 incidents in which firearms were used against civilians or civilian facilities. In percentage terms they are distributed between the above-listed war crimes as follows:
Deliberate killing — 33%,
Deliberate bodily harm — 22%,
Destruction or damage to property — 45%.
The majority of war crimes are complex incidents in which both people and property suffer.
Russia’s soldiers committed 166 deliberate killings, which led to the deaths of 195 individuals. They deliberately inflicted bodily harm in 119 cases, as a result of which 144 individuals were wounded.
We did not record a single incident where there was sufficient evidence to suggest that Ukrainian troops had deliberately fired on civilians. Only in one case, did the relative of a female victim believe that Ukrainian soldiers manning a roadblock targeted and killed her by mistake. In several recorded incidents civilians suffered in exchanges of gunfire during street fighting between Ukrainian and Russian soldiers.
The victims and their vehicles
Among Ukrainian civilians shot and killed by Russia’s soldiers the majority, 135 people, died while attempting to leave occupied or contested territory.
The scenarios of such killings follow the same pattern no matter where or in what Region the incident took place. In a temporarily occupied town or village, or in the “grey zone” between the two contending sides, local inhabitants attempted to quit such dangerous territory in their own vehicle or in a column of vehicles. They did so before a green corridor had been announced or, even, during its announcement. On the road they met Russia’s soldiers in a motor vehicle or passed through a Russian roadblock. Without warning the soldiers opened fire on the motor vehicle(s): many civilians died, some were wounded and, of course, their vehicles were damaged.
In some cases, civilians were killed next to their vehicles when, according to eyewitnesses, they had got out and walked towards the Russian troops with their hands raised above their heads. They were shot anyway.
When Russia’s soldiers aimed at civilian vehicles, they tried to do the most harm possible. Comparing the numbers of dead and wounded following the shooting up of a private automobile that was our conclusion. As indicated above: 135 civilians were killed in 86 incidents; 91 were injured in 55 incidents. The chance of being killed when a vehicle came under fire was, therefore, 1.42 times higher than the likelihood of surviving but being wounded.
When Russian troops employed their small arms, they damaged 146 motor vehicles in 124 incidents. In most cases, the damage was so great that the vehicles were beyond repair. Some ambulances, postal delivery vans and agricultural machinery were hit; privately-owned light automobiles formed the majority of vehicles destroyed.
There were several recorded cases of multiple deaths as a result of firearms attacks on civilian vehicles. The greatest number killed in a single incident was seven individuals.
Russia’s soldiers fired on civilian motor vehicles wherever they had the opportunity to do so — in towns and villages, and on the roads between them, in the Kyiv, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Chernihiv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv Regions.
Killings on the street …
In the city of Mariupol (Donetsk Region) there were three documented cases of the killing of Ukrainian civilians by a Russian sniper. This crime did not occur frequently and was not typical for other Regions. Civilians were shot by Russian soldiers on the streets of towns and villages in all Regions where there were active hostilities, and in temporarily occupied territory.
We recorded five incidents in which civilians were shot dead on the street (a total of ten individuals died) and another six incidents when seven civilians were wounded as a result of such firearms attacks. Such attacks on unarmed civilians on the street had no significant or obvious motivation: in all probability, it was a way of terrorising and intimidating the local population.
In towns and villages where the local inhabitants put up active resistance to the Russian occupying regime there were times when peaceful gatherings and rallies of civilians came under fire. One person died, and 21 others were wounded in those incidents. These were evidently attempts by the occupying forces to crush resistance in the occupied territories.
… and at home
The killing and wounding of civilians at home make up a comparatively small proportion of the total. We recorded seven incidents of deliberate killing that led to the deaths of 20 individuals. People were wounded in only two incidents, affecting two individuals. The motives for such crimes were various: the political activities of the victims, their refusal to collaborate with the occupation authorities, or their past professional activities.
We have not yet been able to establish the circumstances in which 17 incidents of deliberate killing and 20 incidents of deliberate bodily harm took placed.
Damage to civilian facilities
A number of civilian buildings were damaged by gunfire. The largest category were 47 residential buildings. We also recorded damage to 11 businesses, the majority of which were pavilions and small structures at markets. Firing at historical monuments was recorded and, in particular, damage was done by gunfire to monuments to the warriors and the victims of World War Two.
There were also a few incidents when firearms attacks were made on government buildings (2), hospitals (1), schools and kindergarten (3), cultural organisations (1), religious buildings (1) and critical infrastructure (1).
Russia’s soldiers continued the deliberate destruction of the Ukrainian population in the temporarily occupied territories and in areas of active hostilities. No obvious or general explanation could be uncovered for the soldiers’ actions other than the intention of terrorising the local population and crushing resistance.
Mass executions of large groups of Ukrainians have not been recorded. The systematic and deliberate killing and wounding of civilians prompts the suspicion that the upper echelons of the Russian army issued an order to deliberately kill the country’s civilians.