Some 30,000 to 40,000 people of Lysychansk’s pre-war population of 100,000 people were understood to have stayed behind, ensuring that Ukrainian forces sometimes shared apartment buildings and other structures with civilians, many of whom hoped for their defeat.
The Russians “bombed the school, the technical school, the ‘Silpo’ store and more,” said Mykhailo, a resident of an apartment complex in Lysychansk, who gave only his first name to avoid reprisals. “Everywhere the Ukrainian army is being bombed and everything is being destroyed.”
Russian officials claim they are not attacking civilian areas, but Ukrainian and international investigators say they have incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. And Ukrainian politicians and human rights defenders, as well as international scholars, argued that Ukrainian soldiers were largely forced to defend territory under Russian attack.
“The complete absence of any posts, equipment or even a single soldier near a school, hospital, kindergarten, church or museum will not protect them from Russian attacks with air, artillery, tanks, incendiary or cluster munitions,” said Roman Avramenko. The director of the NGO TruthHounds, which investigates war crimes, wrote on Facebook. “The presence of civilians never stopped the Russians from attacking these objects.”
Others pointed to well-documented atrocities committed by the Russian military in urban areas.
“In hundreds of occupied cities, towns and villages, what we saw in Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel is happening right now,” said Olha Reshetylova of the Media Initiative for Human Rights, a Ukrainian advocacy group, referring to the suburbs of Kyiv that have become synonymous with brutality. “Therefore, I do not want the Ukrainian army to leave my city.”