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Dispatches: The Ukraine Ceasefire That Wasn’t

“Is this what they call a ceasefire?” a woman asked me as workers cleaned debris from a small grocery store in central Donetsk in eastern Ukraine that had been destroyed in a recent rocket attack.

Since September 5, there has supposedly been a ceasefire between government and rebel forces here in eastern Ukraine. But it is apparent to everybody here that the ceasefire is in name only.  

At about 5 p.m. on October 8 several rockets simultaneously slammed into a residential area in the Kuibyshevskyi district of Donetsk. They also hit a supermarket, a sports complex, at least two residential buildings, and areas in between. We counted eight impact sites, but there were likely more.

The attack killed two grocery store employees, women in their mid-forties, and a customer. It injured at least nine other people in the supermarket, two severely. The Donetsk city council reported that the attack killed five and injured 24.

Using explosive weapons with wide-area effect in populated areas is problematic because of the high likelihood of injuring and killing civilians. The rockets fired on October 8, so-called Grad rockets, are of particular concern because they can’t be precisely targeted, so this attack violates the laws of war.

Human Rights Watch has documented and condemned previous use of Grad rockets in eastern Ukraine, including attacks that killed and injured civilians. A Kuibyshevskyi district official gave us a list of dozens of houses damaged in attacks since the ceasefire announcement. A recent United Nations report said that more than 300 people had been killed between the start of the ceasefire and October 6.

The circumstances of most attacks we documented point to Ukraine government forces’ responsibility. Craters and damage to buildings in the October 8 rocket attack indicate that the rockets came from the northwest, where government forces are 15 kilometers away. But rebel forces are also violating the ceasefire. We have heard outgoing artillery and Grad rockets from Donetsk on several occasions in the last couple of days.

International supporters of both the government and rebel forces should not be lulled into silence by a ceasefire on paper. The reality is that civilians are being injured and killed, many as a result of laws-of-war violations. Ceasefire or not, concerned governments should make it clear that all parties need to take greater care to avoid civilian casualties.   

Remnants of an unguided Grad rocket impacted into the street in the Kuibyshevskyi district of Donetsk. Photo taken October 9, 2014.
© 2014 Mark Hiznay/Human Rights Watch

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