It was clear that about 30,000 to 40,000 people of Lysychansk’s pre-war population of about 100,000 were left behind, causing Ukrainian troops to sometimes share apartment buildings and other buildings 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 only gave his first name to avoid retaliation. “Everywhere the Ukrainian army settles, it is bombed and everything is destroyed.”
Russian officials claim not to attack civilian areas, but Ukrainian and international investigators have incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. And Ukrainian politicians and human rights defenders, as well as international scholars, have argued that Ukrainian soldiers are largely forced to defend territory under Russian attack.
“The complete absence of any positions, 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 cartridge ammunition,” Roman Avramenko , the director of the TruthHounds NGO, which investigates war crimes, wrote on Facebook. “The presence of civilians has never stopped the Russians from attacking these objects.”
Others pointed to the well-documented atrocities committed by the Russian military in urban areas.
“In hundreds of occupied towns and villages, what we have seen in Bucha, Irpin, Gostomel is happening,” said Olha Reshetylova, of the Media Initiative for Human Rights, a Ukrainian advocacy group, referring to suburbs of Kiev that have become synonymous with barbarity. “That’s why I don’t want the Ukrainian army to leave my city.”