Russian forces, systematically and on a large scale, attack objects used by the civilian population to hide from shelling. They attack hospitals, schools and use civilians, including children, as shields against possible response from the opposing side.
In this they are following a pattern established many years ago in the Federal Russian campaign against separatist Chechnya.
In March 2000, the Russian army was attacking the village of Goi-Chu (also known as Komsomolskoye) for more than twenty days. This small Chechen village is located at the foot of the main Caucasus Mountain range. At the time, both fighters of the Chechen armed units and refugees from remote mountain regions were gathered there.
In the morning of March 4, while hovering over residential buildings, Russian helicopters attacked targets in the nearby forest. Terrified residents tried to leave the village, but were stopped at Russian checkpoints. The soldiers forced them behind the fence of a private house and held them at gunpoint until the evening. Houses nearby were looted. Valuables, audio and video equipment were stolen, and furniture was destroyed. The Russian tactic was to protect their forces by using the civilians as shields.
The following night was relatively calm until the dawn of March 5 when the residents of Goi-Chu were awakened by artillery explosions, and automatic and machine-gun firing. Panicked residents again stampeded towards the northern exit from the village. The helicopters shot at the village, while snipers opened fire on the crowd. Many died or were wounded.
Because of the shelling and the bombing, many families, mostly from the southern part of the village, did not manage to leave their homes. Their remains were later found under the rubble of demolished houses, in courtyards and on the streets. Dozens of children died along with the adults.
The Russian military forced people who tried to leave behind the same fence where they were trapped the day before. Russian artillery and tanks then took up positions right behind the residents. In the clash with the Chechen separatist fighters, no shots were fired at the village. The Russian military, on the contrary, fired continuously.
After each shot fired from tanks and salvo from batteries of “Grad” rockets and “Buratino/Pinocchio” thermobaric rockets, the residents pressed themselves to the ground. Women were crying and children were terrified. As a result, many developed mental disorders, while almost all of them later suffered from constant headaches.
The Russian soldiers then tried to separate men from women. Due to the strong resistance from women who refused to leave their brothers and husbands, the Russian military had to abandon their original plans. Hundreds of Goi-Chu residents were used as “human shields” until March 9, 2000.
During the operation, six or seven men, under the pretext of document checks, were taken away by the soldiers in an unknown direction. Later, in the city of Urus-M artan, in the area between the hospital and the cemetery, two of them were found shot to death. The rest have disappeared.
The residents of Goi-Chu that were held hostage, were without food and water for two days. Only occasionally and only women were allowed to go to a well to get water. If, when trying to collect firewood, people would stray beyond the fence, they were forced to back with machine gun fire.
On the third day, the head of the village administration managed to resolve the issue of food. After negotiations, the military agreed to accept deliveries from residents of neighbouring settlements.
On March 8, soldiers opened fire on people standing behind the fence. Four people were injured. Next morning the Russian commanders summoned the head of the administration. He was ordered to return the residents to the village that was under shelling. The residents, however, decided to go towards the regional centre. The military did not stop them. Perhaps because employees of the International Red Cross and residents of nearby settlements were nearby. By cars and buses, they were eventually brought to safety.
The operation in Goi-Chu was commanded by General Valery Gerasimov. Today he is the chief of the General Staff of the Russian army and one of the key persons who planned the military attack on Ukraine. The atrocities committed today in this country are not just according to the brutal Russian tradition of warfare, but also his own pattern of “combat”. This is how he conducted military operations in Chechnya. He took hostages, shot at humanitarian corridors, bombed maternity hospitals, and turned entire settlements into ruins with the help of artillery and aviation.
In the report “International Tribunal for Chechnya. Legal Perspectives of bringing the responsible to individual criminal accountability for the crimes against humanity perpetrated in the course of the armed conflict in Chechnya”, published in 2009, human rights activists argued that Valery Gerasimov is a war criminal. He is responsible for the use of residents of Goi-Chu as human shields. Moreover, he is responsible for the death of civilians, including children, the extrajudicial execution of Chechen fighters who surrendered, the attack on the hospital and killing patients, as well as in a number of other serious crimes (in Russian).
Information about the practice of using people a human shield by the Russian troops can be found in the report of the Human Rights Center “Memorial” (in Russian).
More documentation of war crimes in Chechnya can be found on the searchable website of the Natalia Estemirova Documentation Center (in Russian and English).