Late May in Kramatorsk, the administrative capital of Ukraine‘s war-torn Donetsk province, and in the communal kitchen of a budget establishment named Hotel Gut there is an ugly dispute brewing.
At its centre is Donatella Rovera, a 50-year-old employee of Amnesty International who recently arrived (with a small entourage) to compile a report on war crimes.
She has fallen out, rather spectacularly, with a group of Western journalists who are chronicling events on the front line roughly 20 miles away. They’re worried about the exact nature of the ‘report’ that Rovera — a flame-haired Islingtonian — will write.
Specifically, members of Hotel Gut’s resident Press corps have become convinced she intends to use Amnesty’s pulpit to suggest that the real villains in this ugly conflict include not only Vladimir Putin‘s invading army, who are raping and pillaging their way across the region, but also the Ukrainian troops trying to stop them.
Why so? Well, Rovera keeps complaining about Ukrainian soldiers taking refuge from ongoing bombardments in an abandoned college building nearby. She appears to think this endangers civilians, and so represents a war crime. Others disagree.
Voices start to be raised.
‘She kept saying that putting soldiers in a populated area violates international humanitarian law,’ Tom Mutch, a New Zealand war correspondent involved in the May clash, now recalls. ‘This simply isn’t true. But when people tried to explain why, she refused to accept that she might be wrong.’