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Amnesty International's Ukraine chief quits in protest at 'Russian propaganda' report

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By Euronews  with AFP
A local resident, back, tries to stop the fire at a neighbor's house destroyed by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.
A local resident, back, tries to stop the fire at a neighbor's house destroyed by a Russian attack in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 5, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

The head of Amnesty International in Ukraine, Oksana Pokalchuk, has resigned after the NGO published a report blaming the Ukrainian armed forces for endangering civilians.

Kyiv reacted furiously to the report that accuses it of placing bases and weapons in residential areas — including schools and hospitals — as it has sought to repel the Russian invasion.

"I am resigning from Amnesty International in Ukraine," Pokalchuk said in a statement on her Facebook page on Friday night, blaming the report for unwittingly serving "Russian propaganda".

"If you don't live in a country that has been invaded by invaders and is tearing it apart, you probably don't understand what it means to condemn an army of defenders," the Amnesty Ukraine official added.

She said she had tried to convince Amnesty International's management that the report was partial and did not take into account the views of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry.

Amnesty said on Friday that it fully supported the report published on Thursday (August 4)

But Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the NGO of transferring "responsibility from the aggressor to the victim" and "attempting to grant amnesty to the terrorist state" of Russia.

"Its report distorts reality, draws false moral equivalence between the aggressor and the victim, and boosts Russia’s disinformation efforts. This is fake 'neutrality', not truthfulness," Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

Pokalchuk claimed that Amnesty had approached Ukraine's defence ministry but "gave it very little time for a response". 

"As a result, the organisation unwittingly published a report that seemed to unwittingly support the Russian version. In an effort to protect civilians, this report has instead become a Russian propaganda tool," she complained.

In an earlier Facebook post, Pokalchuk said Amnesty had ignored calls from her team not to publish the report. "Yesterday I had the naive hope that everything could be fixed and that this text would be replaced by another. But today I realised that this would not happen," she added.

The NGO's Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, said she was "sorry" to hear of Ms Pokalchuk's resignation, but added that she "respected her decision".

"Oksana has been a valued member of Amnesty International's staff and has led its office in Ukraine for seven years, with many human rights successes," she said on Saturday.

The previvous day, Callamard insisted that the report's conclusions were "based on evidence obtained during extensive investigations subject to the same rigorous standards and verification process as all Amnesty International's work".

In its report, published after a four-month investigation, Amnesty accused the Ukrainian army of establishing military bases in schools and hospitals and launching attacks from populated areas, a tactic it said violated international humanitarian law.