On Tuesday, Grad ground-to-ground rocket attacks damaged at least 10 buildings in the city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, which has a population of over 400,000. A day prior, Grad strikes turned Donetsk into a ghost town—hardly any pedestrians could be seen on its clean streets, lined with flower beds and neatly trimmed grass lawns. Every local family was thinking about which basement to run into in case of a new strike by Grads, mortar or artillery. One Grad rocket that landed on Kuibysheva Street on Monday caused an explosive wave that blew out most windows in apartment buildings up to the third floor.
Even as the international community reels from the downing of MH17, the ongoing war between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev has become a serious threat for the population of eastern Ukraine. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reports that 250 people have been killed in Luhansk and at least 800 people injured there since the war began. Local authorities reported earlier this month that some 300,000 citizens had left Donetsk , a city that had a population of one million before hostilities broke out.
Who is ordering these Grad attacks on cities full of people? Human Rights Watch monitors say they have documented at least four incidents in which Ukrainian military forces fired Grad rockets at targets in residential areas in and around Donetsk, killing and injuring civilians, in the past 10 days. “For these attacks, all evidence indicates that Ukrainian forces were responsible. Grad rockets are imprecise, unguided rockets that should not be used in populated areas,” Ole Solvang, a Human Rights Watch monitor in Donetsk, told The Daily Beast.
“If Ukrainian forces and insurgent forces are serious about protecting civilians they should both immediately commit to not using Grad rockets where there are civilians,” Solvang said.
Officials in Kiev have denied any involvement in the Grad attacks. “Not a single Ukrainian commander could ever order a Grad attack on the city,” deputy minister of interior affairs, Anton Gerashenko, told The Daily Beast in an interview this week. “But this is a real war, violent and dangerous,” he added.
In an interview with The Daily Beast on Tuesday, the newly-appointed Minister of Defense, Valery Geletei, echoed this sentiment. “Our goal is to liberate our cities from pro-Russian and Russian-ruled bandits as peacefully as possible, without losing respect and love of the Donbas population,” he said, referring to the region where Donetsk and Luhansk are located.
The minister confirmed that Ukrainian forces have captured—they say ‘liberated’—at least two towns from the separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but said that the Ukrainian army did not ever fire Grads at the cities. He also implied that the rockets could be coming from within the separatist ranks. “It is a challenging war; terrorist gangs fighting against us in Donbass have the newest weapons that they receive from Russia —Grad, tanks, artillery and rocket launchers.”
The minister’s candidacy was approved by 260 parliamentary deputies on July 3. Speaking from the Parliament’s tribune that day, the minister promised to provide security for all Ukrainian citizens. “I am convinced that Ukraine will win,” Geletei said.