‘These aren’t our stories’. Meduza asks the Kremlin’s spokesman about the growing number of civilian casualties in Ukraine

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Volunteers sift through rubble after the shelling of a residential building in Kharkiv. March 21, 2022.

Russia’s war against Ukraine has been raging for almost a month. In that time, the UN Human Rights Office has recorded more than 2,510 civilian casualties in Ukraine: 953 people killed and 1,557 injured. The UN says the actual toll is much higher. During a press briefing on Wednesday, March 23, Meduza’s correspondent asked Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov about the Russian military’s role in the growing number of civilian casualties in Ukraine. He replied as follows. 

Meduza: The other day it became known that in Kharkiv, 96-year-old Boris Romancheno, who survived several Nazi concentration camps during World War II, was killed as a result of Russian shelling. Ukraine’s Attorney General also opened the first criminal case over the rape of a Ukrainian women by Russian servicemen. The [Ukrainian] Attorney General’s Office also reports the deaths of at least 120 Ukrainian children since the start of the war. Please tell me, is this so-called “denazification”? Why do innocent civilians continue to suffer and die in Ukraine, even though the Russian Defense Ministry claims that it only strikes military objects and local nationalists? 

Dmitry Peskov: Please tell me, did you get this information only from the [Ukrainian] Attorney General’s Office or from other sources, as well? 

Meduza: The information about Boris Romanchenko was reported not only by Ukrainian sources, but also by German foundations that help former concentration camp prisons. 

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Dmitry Peskov: I see. And you’re sure that he wasn’t killed in the crossfire from nationalist battalions? Can you be sure?

Meduza: We understand that during combat situations we can’t be 100 percent sure of any information.

Dmitry Peskov: Then you should probably word your question differently. It is claimed that…It is stated that…At the same time it is unconfirmed. You’ll agree. 

Meduza: Yes, that’s why I’m making references for each piece of information.

Dmitry Peskov: Fine, so now my answer. We do not trust the Ukrainian Attorney General’s Office. The Russian troops do not strike or shoot civilians. Russian troops help civilians. And, unfortunately, more and more witnesses are coming out of cities and saying that they are being held there as human shields, and that nationalist battalions open fire on civilians, these are widespread cases. That’s the first thing.

We do not trust the information about the rape of a woman at all. This is a lie. 

Meduza: Is that to say that we can say with a high degree of certainty that all of the information provided by the Ukrainian side is the handiwork of local nationalists?

Dmitry Peskov: This is our point of view. You hear a huge number of stories from direct eyewitnesses, who come out of the cities. They describe how they are kept there as human shields, how nationalist battalions open fire on those who are trying to leave the city. They describe how they are kept under an information blockade, hindering information about the opening of humanitarian corridors, and so on and so forth. These aren’t our stories. These are the stories of the Ukrainians, who leave these cities. 

Meduza: Yesterday, in an interview with CNN, you said that Vladimir Putin hasn’t achieved his goals in Ukraine “yet,” but that the “special operation” is going “strictly according to plan.” The Russian Defense Ministry has reported on casualties only once — 500 Russian soldiers killed. Was this really the plan? And how many more servicemen have to die in order for Vladimir Putin’s goals to be achieved? 

Dmitry Peskov: Indeed, the Defense Ministry provided information once. But as we have already told you, this prerogative belongs entirely and completely to them only, that is, to our military. When they deem it appropriate, they will provide additional information.  

The operation is developing and being carried out in strict accordance with plans and objectives. The plans and objectives of the operation are well known, I won’t repeat myself. [Russian] troops aren’t firing at civilians — so long as civilians don’t take up arms and don’t take aim at our soldiers. 


Translation by Eilish Hart

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