Echoes of Syria conflict as Russia intensifies Ukraine invasion

Laura Boillot from the International Network on Explosive Weapons said it's civilians who will pay the price for Russian bombing - both now and in the future

By ITV News digital journalist Barnaby Papadopulos

Russia's assault on Ukraine is increasing in intensity.

Last week the former head of the British army, Richard Dannatt, told ITV News that Russia was, in some ways, fighting with a hand tied behind its back.

President Putin would have no chance of winning the hearts and minds of Ukrainian people if he destroyed all they had, he said.

But that strategy could be beginning to change.

Heavy bombing has targeted many Ukrainian cities, destroying residential buildings and killing hundreds of civilians.

Apartment blocks in Borodyanka still smoking after Russian shelling on Friday

In the town of Borodyanka, 40 miles north-west of Kyiv, drone footage shows apartment blocks devastated after shelling.

In Mariupol, on the southern coast of the country, the towns deputy mayor told us that the incoming fire was so intense bodies couldn't be collected from the streets.

"We saw continued shelling… they continue to destroy this city, they continue to kill people on the street," he said.

Speaking to ITV News, Laura Boillot, who coordinates the International Network on Explosive Weapons, said: "When explosive weapons have been used in towns and cities we've documented that 90% of the victims are civilians."

"This has been recorded in Syria, now in Ukraine, but across a range of different contexts."

"Beyond that we've seen destruction and devastation caused by damage and destruction to infrastructure."

On Saturday morning a ceasefire was agreed, so that civilians could leave the besieged towns of Mariupol and Volnovakha - but Ukraine quickly accused Russia of breaking this, with reports of continued shelling in both areas.

Speaking from Kyiv on Saturday morning, the ITV News Global Defence and Security editor, Rohit Kachroo said there had been a "great deal of suspicion" in Ukraine regarding the proposed ceasefire, in part due to the Syrian experience.

ITV News Global Defence and Security editor Rohit Kachroo spoke about the proposed ceasefire from Kyiv

"What we've seen in Syria before, for example, is examples of ceasefires announced by Russian authorities which have then been used as a front, to call everyone who decided to remain in position as being aggressors," he said.

What is the Russian intervention in Syria?

In September 2015 Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War, carrying out airstrikes against enemies of the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad.

Within two years, this air support turned the tide of the war in President Assad's favour. His forces recaptured swathes of territory from rebel groups, including the second city of Aleppo in 2017.

Russian and Syrian troops pictured in Aleppo, Syria, in 2016 Credit: AP

However, the Russian air campaign has been fiercely criticised by rights groups, who say it has involved indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations, killing up to 8,000 Syrian civilians.

Russia has previously refuted this.

Laura Boillot highlights the destruction of infrastructure during indiscriminate bombing

Laura Boillot highlighted the damage that such indiscriminate bombing can have on towns and cities.

"We've seen destruction of many of these buildings but also destruction of infrastructure where it's taken out water systems and electricity lines, which has had devastating knock on affects for civilians," she said.

"Even beyond the time that the bombing is taking place lots of people are unable to access essential services that are vital for their wellbeing."

If President Putin orders his troops to approach this conflict the same way they did Syria, the impact on Ukraine's civilian population - already severe - would worsen even further.

Ian Overton, an author and the executive director of Action on Armed Violence, said that Putin's tactics "have been pretty consistent in Chechnya, Donbas, Syria."

"He is not afraid of using explosive weapons in populated areas."

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