The Labour of Truth: Russia’s Attack on a Maternity Hospital in Mariupol as a War Crime is the fourth analytical brief in a series of publications on war crimes in the wake of Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, prepared by Truth Hounds.
At approximately 16:00 EET (UTC+2) on 9 March, Mariupol was bombed by aircraft. The Mariupol Territorial Medical Association for Children’s and Women’s Health at 80 Myru Prospect, which includes a maternity hospital, was targeted. 17 civilians, including mothers, their babies, and doctors were injured. One infant was killed.
Later, the activist Mykola Kuleba announced on his Facebook page that a pregnant woman (pictured below) injured during the bombing also died. The victim’s personal information has not been disclosed, but, following the bombing of the maternity hospital, the woman had been taken to another hospital. The attending doctor said that the explosion had shattered her pelvis and tore off her thigh. Doctors performed a caesarean section, but the child “showed no signs of life”. Afterwards, doctors tried to resuscitate the woman for half an hour, but could not save her.
The media of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic”, as well as pro-Russian outlets and Russian officials, stated that there were no civilians present in the maternity hospital, but that the Ukrainian military was stationed there.
7 March 2022 — At a meeting of the UN Security Council, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, said that, according to local residents, the Armed Forces of Ukraine had established a firing position in Mariupol’s Maternity Hospital №1, expelling all personnel.
8 March 2022 — at 00:01 MSK (UTC+3), a few hours after the meeting of the UN Security Council, a report titled “‘They will not last more than a week’ – Mariupol residents on the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding before their eyes” was published on the Russian news website Lenta.ru. This article mentions a man named Igor (his surname is not specified), according to whom, in the last days of February, people in uniform came to the maternity hospital where his mother works. Igor claims that he does not know if they were soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or the Azov Battalion, however, he claims that they knocked down all the locks, dispersed the staff of the maternity hospital, and set up firing positions in the building in order – as they explained to the doctors – to prepare for the defence of the “Mariupol fortress”. They struck people with the butts of their rifles and fired into the air. Immediately after the attack on the maternity hospital, the article was removed from the site and can now only be found in the WebArchive repository.
8 March 2022 — Four hours before the airstrike, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated that “in Mariupol, representatives of the national [Ukrainian] battalions set up firing positions in the maternity hospital”.
10 March 2022 — The Russian president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, stated that the Russian defence ministry could not provide information on the shelling of the maternity hospital in Mariupol, stating: “We will definitely ask our military because, of course, we do not have clear information about what happened there and probably our military will provide some information. I cannot say”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, while in Turkey for talks with the Turkish and Ukrainian foreign ministers, said that Mariupol’s Maternity Hospital № 1 was used as a base for the Azov Battalion, stating: “On 7 March, three days ago, at a meeting of the UN Security Council, our delegation presented the facts that this maternity hospital had long been occupied by the Azov Battalion and other radicals, by whom all mothers, nurses, and all personnel were expelled”.
On the same day, the Russian Ministry of Defence, represented by Major General Igor Konashenkov, declared that “the Kyiv regime staged a provocation around Mariupol’s Hospital
№ 3 to accuse Russia of airstrikes”. The Russian defence ministry announced a “regime of silence” to safely evacuate civilians from the city, claiming that Russian aircraft in Mariupol did not perform any strikes against targets on the ground (the article in which this was claimed was also later deleted).
10 March 2022 — The official Twitter page of the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom published a post claiming that the attack on the hospital and maternity hospital in Mariupol was faked. These posts were later deleted by Twitter. At the same time, Russian media and the Russian Instagram community launched a campaign to harass one of the injured patients, Mariupol beauty blogger Marianna Pidhurska (Vyshemirska), who they accused of staging the event.
11 March 2022 — At a meeting of the UN Security Council, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, Vasily Nebenzya, showed photos that allegedly prove that the shelling of the Mariupol maternity hospital was staged by the Ukrainian side. In his speech, he also said: “Have you seen videos and photos of the allegedly destroyed maternity hospital? I have them, you can see a building without windows, but not destroyed. Can you imagine what must have happened to the building after the bomb or rocket strike and to those in the building? A photo inside the building shows clutter and intact chairs. I ask you again, can you imagine what the destruction should be after a bomb or missile strike? Military experts will tell you. They have already said, showing a photo of the explosion crater near the building which, by all indications, was formed as a result of a mine detonated in the ground. By the way, are told about 17 wounded in this building and no one killed. As evidence, we are given a fake photo of Ukrainian blogger Marianna Pidhurska (Vyshemirska) and this blogger, in two photos, is made up as two different women, all this was disproved by the users of the [Instagram] network.”
Based on a comparison of the photo of the Mariupol Territorial Medical Association for Children’s and Women’s Health from its official page on the MedControl website with the video from the bombsite, it is evident that it is indeed the Mariupol Territorial Medical Association for Children’s and Women’s Health that was bombed.
told local journalists: “Marianna found a good doctor in a maternity hospital on the Left Bank of Mariupol, she had to give birth there. But on the day when she was supposed to go there for the last ultrasound check-up, the bombing began there and there were hits on the maternity hospital. So she did not go and urgently registered with the Maternal and Children’s Health Hospital [the renamed Children’s Hospital № 3, the same one that was bombed]. She was due to give birth on 9-10 March. That’s why she was in that hospital on that terrible, fateful day of the shelling”.
High-explosive aircraft bombs (FAB) are designed to destroy ground and underground targets through explosions, shockwaves, and penetrative and shrapnel impacts. The characteristic which distinguishes the FAB from other types of bombs is the higher coefficient of the explosive filling (40-55%), which provides the highly efficient explosive action of expanding gas-forming products. Sufficiently strong and massive bomb shells have a large reserve of kinetic energy capable of breaking through obstacles, penetrating to a sufficient depth and with shrapnel impact.
The nature of the destruction and the shape of the crater following the explosion at the Mariupol hospital indicate that it was caused by an aircraft bomb, at least a modification of the FAB-500. This type of bomb is characterised by a crater of the same geometric shape, up to 8.5 m deep, while the maximum radius of destruction of such a bomb for vulnerable vehicles is 110-190 m. All this is evident from the video taken at the bombsite near the Mariupol maternity hospital on 9 March. It is obvious that the technical characteristics of at least a 500- kg high-explosive bomb correspond to the general picture of the destruction after the bombing of the maternity hospital and the other nearby hospital building of the Mariupol Territorial Medical Association for Children’s and Women’s Health.
It should also be noted that on 10 March, Russian troops carried out another air raid on the city and bombed its downtown, close to a local drama theatre. The nature of the consequences of this bombing – the form of the crater and the destruction caused by the bombing – are quite similar to the consequences of the bombing of the hospital. Thus, it can be concluded that Russian troops purposefully and repeatedly used high-explosive bombs against civilians.
The destruction of the premises of the maternity hospital of the Mariupol Territorial Medical Association for Children’s and Women’s Health itself is simply catastrophic, in stark contrast to the statements of the Russian representative to the UN.
Both military and civilian medical facilities, including maternity hospitals, are under the special protection of international humanitarian law (IHL). This means that in addition to the general rules on attacks against civilian objects, IHL offers a number of additional safeguards aimed at minimising the risk of harm to medical facilities. Norms on the special protection of such institutions are contained in the Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land or the Hague Regulations of 1899 (Article 27), Geneva Convention (I) of 1948 (Article 19), Geneva Convention (IV) of 1948 (Article 18), Additional Protocol (I) to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 (Article 12), as well as customary IHL. Additional protection of medical institutions means that attacking them is prohibited in all cases. The use of such facilities for military purposes is also prohibited. The ban on attacks on medical institutions can be lifted only if they are used outside their humanitarian functions to commit acts that harm the enemy. Actions that are harmful to the enemy are interpreted in the comments to the Geneva Conventions as including the hiding of combatants in a medical facility, the deployment of weapons, the stationing of a military observation post, etc. However – and this follows directly from the Geneva Conventions – the presence of armed guards on the territory of the medical institution, the presence of combatants receiving medical care, the presence of small arms and ammunition confiscated from the wounded and sick, and the possession of weapons by medical personnel cannot be regarded as circumstances that lift the aforementioned protection. Thus, not all instances of the presence of armed persons on the territory of a medical institution removes the special protection provided by IHL.
Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 (Article 13) notes that even in cases where the protection of medical institutions has ceased due to their use to harm the enemy, an attack is permitted only after a warning has been given which sets, whenever appropriate, a reasonable time limit and only after such warning has remained unheeded.
An attack on a medical facility in violation of IHL is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the ICC. Like Additional Protocol I, the Rome Statute indicates that the presence of armed persons on the territory of or directly inside of a medical institution does not deprive it of protection if the function of such persons is to maintain order.
As argued above, the maternity hospital that was attacked was not used to harm the enemy. Even if combatants were stationed on its territory – something for which there is currently no evidence – this would not remove its special protection under IHL.
Statements by Russian officials both before and after the attack on the maternity hospital confirm the knowledge of Russian armed forces about the protected status of the facility. This knowledge did not stop them from carrying out the attack. It is also important to emphasise that an attack on a specially protected facility such as a maternity hospital requires a high level of confidence that the facility is being used for military purposes. This high level of confidence in the use of the object of attack for military purposes by Russian officials could evidenty not be formed due to the lack of any information about the military use of the maternity hospital in social media groups and channels, which usually react very quickly to news of significant events such as seizures of medical facilities. In addition, in his speech at the UN Security Council, the Russian representative Nebenzya mentioned a different maternity hospital as one that could have been used for military purposes, rather than the one that was attacked.
Accordingly, the leadership of the military units that organised the attack and its direct perpetrators did not have an acceptable degree of confidence that the maternity hospital was being used as a military facility.
It is obvious that no matter how desperately the Russian side seeks to justify the inhuman attack by its armed forces on the maternity hospital in Mariupol, two things remain obvious: their manipulation of the facts and their lies about the reasons for the bombing. Certainly, it is necessary to conduct a more in-depth investigation into all the circumstances of this attack. However, at this stage, there are already more than sufficient grounds to claim that the Russian side has committed a war crime, for which all those involved should be held accountable.
On the day of the attack on the maternity hospital of the Mariupol Territorial Medical Association for Children’s and Women’s Health, the Russian media began to spread the following content, attributed to the head of the National Defence Management Centre of the Russian Federation, Mikhail Mizintsev:
Thus, we see a certain pattern in Russia’s actions and evidence that its military leadership has deliberately embarked on a path of terror against the civilian population and blackmail of the Ukrainian authorities.
Austrian military analyst Tom Cooper who has been studying Russian style of warfare for many years posted on his facebook page on March 15: “In Syria, the VKS (Russian air forces) hit over 100 medical facilities, most of these 3-4 times, for a total of 492 registered air strikes on medical facilities. In Ukraine so far, it hit 18 medical facilities.
Because that’s the Russian way of fighting wars. It’s a part of strategy aiming to spread terror, break morale, and prompt civilians to flee”.
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