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4 July 2023

Ukrainian woman human rights defender and writer Viktoria Amelina killed in Russian missile strike on Kramatorsk

On 1 July 2023, woman human rights defender and author Viktoria Amelina died in hospital in Dnipro, Ukraine after sustaining fatal injuries during the Russian missile attack on Kramatorsk, Ukraine on 27 June 2023. PEN Ukraine reported the death of the woman human rights defender on 3 July 2023 with the consent of her relatives. Viktoria is survived by her husband and 10-year old son.

Viktoria Amelina was a woman human rights defender and writer. In June 2022, after the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, she joined the Ukrainian human rights organisation Truth Hounds to document war crimes. She had been documenting apparent Russian war crimes in the liberated territories of eastern, southern and northern Ukraine, and particularly the village of Kapytolivka in Kharkiv region. During one of her missions, Viktoria Amelina discovered a diary of Volodymyr Vakulenko, a Ukrainian writer who was abducted and killed by the Russian military. She was also working on a non-fiction project “War and Justice Diary: Looking at Women Looking at War”, a research project about the Ukrainian women human rights defenders documenting and investigating war crimes committed by the Russian military. Before joining Truth Hounds, Viktoria Amelina actively campaigned for the liberation of Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director from Crimea who was a political prisoner of the Russian authorities from 2014 to 2019.

Viktoria Amelina won the Joseph Conrad Literature Prize for her prose works, including the novels Dom’s Dream Kingdom and Fall Syndrome, and was a finalist for the European Union Prize for Literature. In 2021, she founded the New York book festival in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, where New York refers to a village in Donetsk that is very close to the military frontline.

On 27 June 2023, the woman human rights defender Viktoria Amelina was in Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, accompanying a delegation of Colombian writers and journalists who represented #AguantaUcrania, a group that raises awareness about Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in Latin America. Before coming to Kramatorsk, the group took part in a prominent Ukraninan literary fair “Book Arsenal.” They all arrived to Kramatorsk to document the situation in Ukrainian cities in the Donetsk region to support the visibility work of #AguantaUcrania.

On the evening of 27 June 2023, the group was having dinner in the Ria Lounge restaurant in Kramatorsk, when a Russian missile hit the building in which the restaurant was located. This missile killed 13 civilians and injured a further 60. As a result of the missile strike, Viktoria Amelina suffered a severe head injury and was hospitalised in Kramatorsk, before being transferred to the hospital in Dnipro. The woman human rights defender died in the hospital in Dnipro three days later, on 1 June 2023.

Truth Hounds and PEN Ukraine reported that, in the aftermath of the attack, Russian state propaganda media falsely claimed that the target of the missile was the temporary headquarters of one of the Ukrainian Armed Forces brigades. In reality, the Ria Lounge restaurant in Kramatorsk was one of the most popular restaurants in the city and was frequented by Ukrainian and international human rights and civil society actors, humanitarian volunteers, and media and film crews. Truth Hounds and PEN Ukraine’s report stated that there were no military objectives that the Russian military could have have been targetting with a missile attack that day. Together, the human rights organisations made a public statement concerning the strike, stating that the precision of the Iskander missiles leads them to believe that the missile strike was an attack against the civilian population.

In light of the death of the woman human rights defender Viktoria Amelina, Front Line Defenders once again reiterates its grave concern about the killings of Ukrainian human rights defenders, civil society activists, humanitarian volunteers and other community leaders as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine. According to Front Line Defenders’ HRD Memorial, at least 50 human rights defenders were killed in Ukraine in 2022, including humanitarian actors and human rights journalists, as a result of the activities of the Russian military forces.

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the killing of the woman human rights defender Viktoria Amelina and urges the authorities of the Russian Federation to cease targeting civilian objects in accordance with Russia’s international humanitarian and human rights law obligations, recalling that the deliberate targeting of civilians is prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The attack on the Ria Lounge restaurant may qualify as a war crime pursuant to Article 8(2)(b)(ii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – “intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects.” Alternatively, such an attack may be qualified under Article 8(2)(b)(i) - “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population”; or Article 8(2)(b)(iii) - “intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance [...] mission.” Front Line Defenders calls for an impartial and independent investigation into the killing of human rights defender Viktoria Amelina while she was on mission conducting her human rights work. All those involved in the commission of this crime must be brought to justice.