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eyeWitness submitted evidence of human rights violations committed in Chernihiv to UN Commission of Inquiry

The corner of a school building in Ukraine that has been completely destroyed, exposing the floors within.

A school in the Chernihiv oblast has been destroyed so extensively that it has been forced to liquidate. (Captured with the eyeWitness to Atrocities app)

Between 24 February and 27 September 2022, following Russia’s full-scale invasion, eyeWitness to Atrocities app users uploaded almost 20,000 photos, videos, and audio recordings relating to the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine. Almost 2,000 of these were captured in and around the city of Chernihiv – a city that was 70% destroyed in less than five weeks.

The footage exposed the wide destruction of residential areas, educational facilities, cultural heritage sites, and commercial properties. Some of the incidents uncovered had not been widely reported by the media at the time of the submission.

How did eyeWitness aid justice?

In addition to other justice initiatives in Ukraine, eyeWitness submitted evidence of human rights violations to the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. The Commission is mandated to investigate incidents that occurred between late February and late March 2022 in the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy.

eyeWitness’ submission, based on both app user footage and open-source information analysed by eyeWitness, exposed the destruction of Chernihiv’s neighbourhoods and properties. The incidents are believed to have been perpetrated between 28 February and mid-to-late March 2022.

Impact summary

  • 2,000 photos, videos, and audio recordings from the Chernihiv oblast analysed.
  • Previously underreported damage to civilian infrastructure in the Chernihiv oblast exposed.
  • 10th submission filed in relation to Ukraine since February 2022, and 2nd submission filed to the UN Commission of Inquiry.
  • The submission detailed damage to, or destruction of, four types of properties:

    1. Residential buildings

    App users captured hundreds of photos revealing full or partial destruction of seeming residential homes across the city and surrounding areas, including collapsed roofs, missing facades, shattered windows, and in some instances, dark stains akin to burn marks on the walls.

    Open-source research indicated that, in some cases, the destruction resulted in civilian deaths and left many without gas, electricity, or water in the midst of winter.

    A row of four residential buildings that have been destroyed. Starting on the left, the first has been reduced to its wooden frame, the second is a house that is missing half its facade, the third is partially concealed by a tree that has been broken in half and is covered in scorch marks, and the fourth building has a roof that is partially caved in. There is a wire fence with piles of rubble and bricks in the foreground.

    Residential neighbourhoods across the Chernihiv oblast have been reduced to rubble. (Captured with the eyeWitness to Atrocities app)

    2. Schools

    Footage showed at least three extensively damaged schools in the city of Chernihiv, as well as areas in the vicinity of schools in the wider region.

    Two secondary schools in the Stara Podusivka district were destroyed so extensively they were liquidated. Open-source research indicated that they may have been used as a military base at the time of the attack.

    A two-storey red brick school buidling. The roof is complete missing, as are the front doors and many of the windows.

    A school that has suffered extensive damage. (Captured with the eyeWitness to Atrocities app)

    3. Cultural heritage sites

    Footage unveiled damage to the Church of St. Theodosius, the Church of St. Kazan and the grounds of Yatsevo cemetery, as well as the partially destroyed Regional Children’s Library and adjacent Yuriі Haharin Stadium.

    In the case of the Church of St. Theodosius, app users captured footage revealing more extensive damage than that reported by the media. While it was known that the church’s dome had collapsed and that a fire had damaged the walls and interior, the footage highlighted further devastation to the church’s roof and bell tower.

    A phoro of a grave site that shows signs of damage such as a crater in the middle of some paving beside a grave.

    Graves at Yatsevo cemetery have been damaged. (Captured with the eyeWitness to Atrocities app)

    A turquoise-coloured church with white columns at the front. The front door is missing and there are small holes (possibly bullet holes) scattered up the front wall. There are orderly piles of wood and bricks outside. The dome at the top of the church is missing along with other parts of the roof.

    The dome on top of Church of St. Theodosius has completely collapsed. (captured with the eyeWitness to Atrocities app)

    4. Supermarkets

    Although the media reported damage to four ATB supermarkets – the largest retailer in Ukraine – app users captured over 450 photos and videos of at least 10 supermarkets located in different neighbourhoods across the city. Some of the supermarkets were heavily damaged or destroyed, while others showed signs of forced entry and possible looting.

    Open-source research indicated that ATB supermarkets have opened their basements as underground bomb shelters in addition to supplying and delivering food, essential goods, and drinking water to the population. However, because of the military attacks, the company has had to suspend its work in roughly 200 supermarkets across the country.

    The front of an ATB supermarket. The front windows are smashed and there is broken glass on the ground.

    Hundreds of images expose damage to at least 10 ATB supermarkets across the city. (Captured with the eyeWitness to Atrocities app)

    Conclusions

    eyeWitness concluded in the submission that there were reasonable grounds to believe that these incidents constituted at least gross violations of the human rights to adequate housing, to education, to take part in cultural life, to food, and to an adequate standard of living, as well as of the freedom of religion and belief. Pending further analysis, the incidents could also constitute violations of international humanitarian law.

    eyeWitness also requested the Commission to investigate the incidents further.

    eyeWitness continues to support app users across Ukraine to expose violations and abuses of human rights, international criminal law, and international humanitarian law with verifiable footage. Furthermore, the team continues to analyse and deliver that footage to relevant accountability mechanisms through evidence-based submissions.