February 21, 2023
eyeWitness to Atrocities app enhances investigation with verifiable footage of destruction captured in largely hit areas
Destroyed exterior of the Izium Central City Hospital, which was damaged in at least three attacks in March 2022. Photography by Ukrainian Healthcare Center captured with the eyeWitness to Atrocities app in November 2022.
A new investigation, published jointly today by eyeWitness to Atrocities (eyeWitness), and Insecurity Insight (II), Media Initiative for Human Rights (MIHR) Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and the Ukrainian Healthcare Center (UHC), uncovers evidence of attacks on Ukraine’s healthcare infrastructure since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. With multiple accountability bodies investigating alleged war crimes and other violations in Ukraine, the evidence could prove crucial to end impunity and hold accountable perpetrators of such violations.
The new report, Destruction and Devastation: One Year of Russia’s Assault on Ukraine’s Health Care System, documents 10 highly detailed case studies based on UHC and MIHR’s research visits to hospitals across Ukraine to inspect attack sites, assess damage, take photographs, and conduct semi-structured interviews with survivors and witnesses.
The report concludes there is a reasonable basis to believe that attacks on Ukraine’s health care system constitute war crimes and comprise a course of conduct that could potentially constitute crimes against humanity as well.
“The findings presented in the report urgently warrant further investigation by prosecutorial authorities. The ten case studies, in particular provide compelling evidence for prosecutors – be they at the International Criminal Court, in Kyiv, or beyond – to pursue accountability for these heinous acts,” said Wendy Betts, director at eyeWitness to Atrocities.
Additionally, the report is accompanied by an interactive map showing 707 incidents of varying degrees of damage and destruction to Ukraine’s health care system – including attacks on health care facilities and violence against health care workers – over the past year.
The eyeWitness to Atrocities App (the App) has been used in Ukraine since 2017 to gather verifiable evidence of potential violations of human rights and international criminal law. Based on footage collected, eyeWitness submitted a report to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing in 2021 advocating for investigation of apparent violations of Ukrainians' rights to adequate housing.
Following Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, the amount of footage captured with the App in Ukraine has increased rapidly. App users have uploaded more than 30,000 photos, videos, and audio recordings, which may prove useful in prosecuting war crimes or other violations.
When recording with the App, it automatically records the location, date, and time the footage was captured in a way that cannot be altered. Additionally, the App ensures the footage itself cannot be edited. The user then uploads the footage and its metadata to eyeWitness’ secure server, hosted by LexisNexis Legal & Professional, for further review by legal teams.
In 2022, after the liberation of different regions, UHC and MIHR’s research teams visited hospital sites to document evidence of destruction. UHC’s research team used the App to collect verifiable visual evidence of damage incurred in the towns of Izium and Trostianets, among others, where the hospitals were attacked on several occasions.
Particularly, in the case of Trostianets, despite being marked with the red cross sign to indicate its status as a medical facility as shown by DW’s investigation, the hospital sustained multiple attacks.
In addition to inclusion in the report, footage captured with the App helped corroborate photos taken by others.
Targeting functioning healthcare infrastructure and workers in armed conflicts and attacking civilian infrastructure indiscriminately - including hospitals and clinics - are war crimes under International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
IHL’s relevant rules and principles govern the conduct of parties in armed conflict, and the protected status of health facilities. As parties to an international armed conflict, Russia and Ukraine are equally bound to comply.
Health care facilities, providers, and ambulances are afforded special protection under IHL so as to mitigate the impact of conflict on their work and ensure the delivery of care to the sick and injured. Under IHL, parties to the conflict must protect civilians against dangers arising from military operations and allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need. Beyond protection, however, there is a pressing need to ensure accountability when IHL rules and principles are violated.
Read the full report and find the interactive map documenting assaults on health care in Ukraine which will be periodically updated available in English at www.attacksonhealthukraine.org in Ukrainian at www.attacksonhealthukraine.org/?lang=uk
eyeWitness seeks consent before sharing footage captured by non-anonymous users with third parties. Users provided consent to share the photos they captured with the App and uploaded to eyeWitness’ server for the purpose of this report and associated map.