Since late February, when Russia began pummeling Ukraine with missiles and artillery on a scale unseen in Europe for decades, civilian deaths have been as inevitable as the Russian excuses that follow.
Attacks have struck people in bread lines and on playgrounds, as well as apartment blocks, theaters and hospitals. After each one, Russia has denied or deflected responsibility, often accusing Ukraine of attacking its own people to sway domestic and global opinion against Moscow.
Russia has claimed that it aims only at targets of military value — even though some were hundreds of miles from the front lines — and that whenever a civilian facility did get hit, it was one that the Ukrainian military had co-opted for use as a command post, a shelter for foreign fighters or storage for weapons.
The Kremlin mantras have found resonance among the Russian people, many of whom are influenced by state-controlled television networks and conservative pro-war online commentators who bolster the party lines.
What initially appeared as a possible smuggling incident on the Southwest Side resulted in a misunderstanding after deputies were called to investigate an 18-wheeler and multiple people jumping out of it.
A deputy constable was flagged down around 4:30 p.m. Friday by a concerned citizen in the 2000 block of South General McMullen who saw people getting out of a semi-truck near an apartment complex, Sheriff Javier Salazar said.
The constable called for back up and detained some of the people until more agencies arrived.
An estimated 14 people were found at the scene, and Salazar said they were jumping out of the truck. It was later determined that they are a work crew for a demolition cleanup company based in California.
Twelve of the people are Cuba nationals and two are from Nicaragua, but all are here legally, Salazar said.
However, the group of people may not have permission to be working, Salazar added.
Yet journalists, independent organizations and Ukrainian officials have documented Russian attacks on thousands of civilian buildings, structures and vehicles. In some cases, Russia used outdated weapons that might have been aimed at an industrial facility but missed, putting civilians at risk. But in many other cases, the Russians’ explanations have not held up under scrutiny.
Here are a few of the largest attacks, along with how Russia has explained away responsibility.
Overnight missiles struck a hotel; an entire section of a nine-story residential tower, where more than 100 people lived; and a recreational center, killing at least 21 and injuring dozens of others about 50 miles southwest of Odesa, according to Ukraine’s state emergency service.
Russia’s response: Russia was targeting ammunition and arms depots, plants that manufacture and repair military equipment, and places where “foreign mercenaries” and “nationalist elements” were based and trained, said Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman. “I would like to again remind you of the words of the president of the Russian Federation and commander in chief that the armed forces of the Russian Federation are not working against civilian targets in the course of the special military operation,” he said, referring to President Vladimir V. Putin.
These traumatized people have streamed out of war-torn Ukraine into European countries, mainly to Poland, escaping the daily thunder of Russian bombardment. Mostly women and children, they bring heart-wrenching stories of death, destruction, and endless days lived in underground railways, basements of theaters, and enduring dangerous passage across borders as civilian targets are hit by Russian troops and weapons destined to bomb Ukraine into submission.
It remains a staggering refugee crisis for the European continent, the worst in decades, the outcome of which may determine the future of Europe and democracy. Europe’s cities and towns are filled to the brim with Ukrainians in need of immediate medical and psychological counseling, housing for anxious parents, frightened children, frail elderly people, and many without documents or physical belongings—only mental and physical scars from war.
Many ask if Europe can continue to manage the refugee crisis—providing immediate assistance for refugees and middle and longer-term assistance. Patience is wearing thin as the war drags on. Internal pressures on governments are increasing as citizens worry about resources for their own populations.
Refugee crises have stages, each with its own problems. If part of Vladimir Putin’s agenda has been to cleanse Ukraine and impose a massive refugee crisis on Europe as part of an overall de-stabilization of the West, how Europe responds may impact the future of Putin and his regime. Europe knows that everyone is watching how it handles this refugee crisis.
The most important steps taken thus far is that together the European Union has agreed to trigger a never-before used Temporary Protection Directive granting temporary protection for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian onslaught. The directive was approved in 2001 after the wars in Yugoslavia and Bosna but never administered. Under the directive, Ukrainian refugees will be given residence permits to stay inside the European bloc for at least one year, a period that will be automatically extended for a further year and could be renewed for as long as three years. Ukrainian refugees and their relatives will have access to education, health, employment, and housing. The protection can be granted by any E.U. country, not only by the first country reached by the refugee.