Ukrainian forces have exposed civilians to Russian attacks at times by basing themselves in schools, residential buildings and other places in populated areas, according to the Associated Press and a report from Amnesty International.
AP journalists on several occasions in recent weeks saw attack sites in Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, and communities in the eastern Donetsk region where Ukrainian fighters, their vehicles or other items such as ammunition were still present.
At two locations, AP was told a soldier or soldiers had been killed.
At a third, emergency workers blocked media from filming victims of a Russian strike on a residential building, which was unusual; locals said military personnel had been staying there.
In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International said its researchers between April and July "found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas, as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages" in three regions of the country.
Amnesty also said it found Ukrainian forces using hospitals as military bases in five places, which the human rights group called "a clear violation of international humanitarian law".
The report noted that "international humanitarian law requires the parties to a conflict to avoid locating, to the maximum extent feasible, military objectives within or near densely populated areas".
Combatants also must remove civilians from the "vicinity of military objectives" and provide warnings about possible attacks, the report said, adding that "viable alternatives were available that would not endanger civilians such as military bases or densely wooded areas nearby, or other structures further away from residential areas".
At the same time, its authors stressed that the "Ukrainian military's practice of locating military objectives within populated areas does not in any way justify indiscriminate Russian attacks".
Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly asked the remaining residents of the Donetsk region to leave but starting anew elsewhere is not that easy.
Tens of thousands of people who left their homes since Russia's invasion have returned after running out of support or feeling unwelcome.
AP reported last week that one person who had fled was killed in a missile strike two days after returning home to the city of Pokrovsk in Donetsk.
Neighbours expressed anger that Ukrainian fighters had set up base in their residential area on the city's outskirts.
As AP journalists looked at the missile crater, a uniformed fighter walked over from the adjacent plot of land and questioned their presence.
In the city of Kramatorsk, closer to the front line, residents told AP after a strike in a residential area that soldiers had been staying there.
AP saw soldiers entering and leaving a Kramatorsk apartment building hit by a separate strike.
And in Kharkiv, AP saw soldiers and military vehicles at a teaching university that was hit.
Soldiers and supplies also were present at a school for the disabled where a Russian strike left two craters in the schoolyard.
Aside from witness accounts, Amnesty International relied on satellite imagery and remote sensing.
Its researchers heard outgoing fire from nearby Ukrainian positions while examining damaged residential areas in the regions of Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and Donbas.
The Donbas region, which consists of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, is where the war's most intense fighting has taken place since April.
The mother of a man killed in a rocket attack in a village near Mykolaiv told researchers that Ukrainian forces had stayed in a house next to theirs.
The researchers found military uniforms and equipment there, according to the report.
Ukraine's Defence Ministry has not responded to the findings, the rights group said.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry declined to comment to AP on the Amnesty report.
Russian state and pro-Kremlin media have extensively quoted the report, whose findings somewhat align with Russia's official narrative.
Russia has justified attacks on civilian areas by alleging that Ukrainian fighters are setting up firing positions there.
Ukrainian soldiers also have routinely based themselves in schools, Amnesty said.
Australian Associated Press
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