A UN report has blamed Ukrainian troops for a Russian rebel attack on a nursing home in the Luhansk region in early March. A few days before the attack, Ukrainian soldiers had taken up positions in the building in Stara Krasnyanka near Sieverodonetsk, effectively making it a target for attacks, the UN Human Rights Agency said in a report. On March 11, pro-Russian rebels then fired heavy weapons at the facility, where 71 residents and 15 employees were stuck without electricity and water.

According to the report, a few residents and employees managed to escape into a forest before eventually finding help five kilometers away. At least 22 nursing home residents survived, the exact number of deaths has not yet been clarified, it said. The UN report is said to be based on testimonies from surviving employees and information from relatives of residents. The documentation of the case is not yet complete, said a UN employee.

The first media reports about the attack on the nursing home in Stara Krasnyanka appeared more than a week after the fighting. They largely reproduced the portrayal of Ukrainian government officials. The Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Hajdaj, stated in his Telegram account on March 20 that Russian occupiers had cynically and deliberately fired a tank at close range at the nursing home, killing 56 people. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova gave the same number. Neither of them mentioned whether Ukrainian soldiers were in the building before the fighting began.

Three days later, on March 23, the Luhansk separatist human rights commissar Viktoria Serdyukova accused Ukrainian forces of taking the people in the nursing home hostage. When they retreated, they set the house on fire, many of the residents burned alive.

The UN report did not rule on whether Ukrainian soldiers or separatists committed war crimes in Stara Krasnyanka. However, the fight over the nursing home is emblematic of human rights activists’ fears that civilians could be used as human shields to prevent military operations in certain areas, it said.

The Luhansk regional administration, headed by Hajdaj, did not initially respond to inquiries about the UN report. The attorney general’s office told the AP news agency that it was checking whether Ukrainian soldiers were in the nursing home. It gave a number of around 50 deaths, fewer than in March.