Women and children are warned: You will become human shields

Published by The Daily Mail (11th March, 2022)

Russian forces are rounding up Ukrainian civilians and holding them as captives in areas they have seized, provoking fears they are being used as human shields.

The revelation of such sinister acts – a clear contravention of international law and coming after the horrifying bombardment of hospitals, schools and residential areas – has emerged from families fleeing from villages around Kyiv.

One traumatised woman told the Daily Mail her son was taken prisoner along with other men in the village of Dymer, 25 miles north of the capital, after it was captured on Tuesday following days of shelling.

The 33-year-old businessman was seized after 12 days sheltering with his wife and two children, aged seven and four, in the basement of their home, which stood in the path of Russian forces sweeping south from Belarus.

‘My daughter-in-law called me and said he had been taken as a hostage,’ said his mother Alla, 67, a retired accountant. 

‘She said they came into the basement, told her and the children to leave but ordered all the men to remain.

‘All the men and the elderly people who could not walk had to stay,’ she said. ‘Maybe they are using them as human shields like the Germans once did.’

Her son’s wife was made to leave on foot with five other women and all their children, walking for seven miles through the freezing cold until they reached a road.

‘It was all taken by the Russians – their tanks and soldiers were everywhere.’ Alla said her son’s phone was taken by a soldier – yet he managed to call his wife the next day on a mobile they think was hidden by another captive.

‘He told her he was all right. They were not hurt, they were still in their houses, they had food and water but were not being allowed to leave the village,’ said Alla.

‘I just hope he can run away but where will he run? It is all taken by the Russians. There is no end to this horror.’

Dymer and surrounding villages have seen some of the worst fighting in the war.  One local official said Russian troops had fired on pharmacies, shops and homes. 

The allegations by Alla – who does not want to give her full name to protect her son – dovetail with reports emerging from other parts of Ukraine that have fallen under Russian control, especially in the critical battlegrounds surrounding Kyiv.

Iryna Badanova, from the Department for the Release of Prisoners of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said one woman in Zhytomyr region had told relatives she was being held hostage. 

She said two dozen people from a mushroom farm in Bucha, close to Dymer, were held in a kindergarten.

‘There were elderly people, children, women. They were not made any demands, they were just told “we will use you as a human shield”.’

Miss Badanova said families were being held hostage also in nearby Gostomel, where savage fighting has raged over a key airport since the initial hours of the invasion, including two women with their children and residents of a residential complex.

‘These people were taken straight from the apartments,’ she said. ‘Then they were allowed to return to the apartments, take warm clothes and food so that they could be taken to Russia.’

Dmitry Zhivitskyy, head of the Sumy Regional Administration which has seen fierce fighting, has also claimed that the Russian army is using civilians as human shields to protect military equipment, including anti-aircraft missile systems and tanks.

Hanna Mokrousova, head of Blakytniy Ptakh (Blue Bird), a human rights group that helps families of people taken hostage and missing people, said they had received dozens of calls for help.

‘From the information we are getting we see that civilians are taken hostages,’ she said. ‘We don’t know how many but it is definitely happening. We have information about women as well as men being taken.

She said it was hard to get precise data on numbers since many battlegrounds had limited communications, but hostage-taking fitted Russian tactics seen in previous conflicts – including using them to swap for prisoners-of-war taken by Ukraine in the Donbas.

‘Russia has always taken a lot of civilians as hostage,’ she added. ‘They did it on the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas before to exchange for the captured soldiers, so they might use the same tactics now.

‘We’ve been watching Russia fighting across the globe for many years and they always use civilians. They use them as human shields and they attack civilian infrastructure. This is not a novelty. It’s how Russia operates in military conflicts.’

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