It is important that those who are aid workers have the right professional background – NRK Norway – Overview of news from different parts of the country

Sander Sørsveen Trelvik and Simon Johnsen have traveled to Ukraine as volunteers to help with the evacuation of the injured several times in the past year.

They were injured while helping civilians in the war-torn city of Bakhmut on Thursday.

Norwegian aid organizations are reacting strongly to the attack, says program manager at the Norwegian Red Cross, Håkon Jacob Røthing.

Healthcare personnel hit hard in Ukraine

– Dit is strictly forbidden under international humanitarian law to attack medical personnel who work exclusively as such. They have a special protection in international law which means that they should be able to carry out their missions, without having to be attacked for it, says Røthing.

But still, there are plenty of examples of health workers, hospitals and ambulances being hit by acts of war in the past year in Ukraine. INfollowing figures from the World Health Organisation, WHO then last year there were around 800 cases where medical infrastructure or personnel were affected by military activity in Ukraine, according to Røthing.

Program manager at the Norwegian Red Cross, Håkon Jacob Røthing.

Photo: MØRTVEDT, Mari Aftret/Red Cross

. The Red Cross’s office in Kherson was hit by an attack last week, says Røthing.

Was it a deliberate attack?

Then there is the question of whether the attack on the Norwegian volunteers was a deliberate attack, because they were volunteers helping to evacuate. One of the injured, Simon Johnsen, have claimed this was a deliberate Russian attack on aid workers.

The Norwegian Red Cross does not want to speculate on that.

In that case, it is something that will be investigated or investigated on an individual basis. The Red Cross does not investigate war crimes or contribute to such processes, neither in Ukraine nor elsewhere. That is what other actors do. To ensure access on both sides of a conflict line, it is crucial that both parties perceive us as neutral, says Røthing.

Sander Sørsveen Trelvik and Simon Johnsen do not have formal training as ambulance drivers. But according to colleague and nurse Sheena Smith Simensen, who has worked with the two in Ukraine, they are experienced and very skilled in the work they do.

– Vmake sure that those who help others in Ukraine are well qualified

The Norwegian Red Cross does not wish to comment on these two injured people specifically, and their qualifications, which they do not know.

What we can say on a general basis is that it is important that those who help others in Ukraine are well qualified, and that they have the right professional background for what they do, says Røthing.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs informs NRK on Saturday that they have been in contact with the organization the two men are associated with. They don’t want to go into details.

It is unclear how many Norwegians actually work as volunteers in Ukraine.

Around 50 people are said to have registered entry to Ukraine on, according to press officer Mathias Rongved.

However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs specifies that they do not know exactly how many of these work as volunteers in the country.

They do not constitute a legitimate target for the enemy

What requirements do you have as health personnel or aid workers in a war like the one in Ukraine? Gro Nystuen is a lawyer with a doctorate in international law, and is associated with the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights (NIM).

She says that if they are enrolled in the Ukrainian army as health personnel, that is, they are in uniform marked with health personnel, then they are protected against attack, they should have immunity, says Nystuen.

They are non-combatant, in the sense that they are not legal targets. They do not constitute a legal target for the enemy if they are healthcare personnel, says Nystuen.

Gro Nystuen, deputy chairman of the Ethics Council

Gro Nystuen is a lawyer with a doctorate in international law, and is associated with the Norwegian Institute for Human Rights (NIM).

Photo: Tone Gullaksen / NRK

According to a colleague of the two injured, the Norwegian-British nurse Sheena Smith Simensen, the two were not enlisted in the Ukrainian army, but they cooperated with it.

They wear badges of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, a green background with a cross. It also says “medics” in several places on the military uniform, says Smith Simensen.

She also says that the car, which is totally damaged, was marked with a large cross on the side, which says that they are aid workers, says Smith Simensen to NRK.

Sheena Smith Simensen in Ukraine together with one of the injured, Simon Johnsen.

Sheena Smith Simensen, together with the injured Simon Johnsen in Ukraine.

Photo: photo: Private

Gro Nystuen says that when health workers are hit in war, there may be war crimes.

– Hif you are clearly marked in the way you are supposed to be as a healthcare professional, then you will not be a legal target. Then it is a war crime if you still go after health workers as a target, in the same way that an attack on civilians is a war crime, says Nystuen.


This is how the two Norwegian volunteers were marked, according to colleague Sheena Smith Simensen.

Photo: private

But also not paying enough attention to health workers during an attack can be a war crime, even if the intention is not to harm health workers, says Nystuen.

One is what is called indiscriminate attacks. That one uses warfare methods or weapons that cannot distinguish between civilians and military, such as cluster weapons. It is not that you want to hit civilians and health workers, but that you throw out a lot of cluster munitions and know that there are civilians in the area, then there will be an indiscriminate attack, and then it is a war crime, says Nystuen.

– IIt is not entirely logical that Russia attacks health personnel

There is also a rule in international law called caution in attack. This means that precautions must be taken to try to direct attacks so that there are as few civilian casualties as possible, explains Nystuen.

It is not forbidden for civilians or health workers to die in war, but one must try to minimize it. If, for example, you bomb a hospital and have not investigated in advance that it was a hospital, then it is conceivable that it will, for example, be affected by this rule, says Nystuen.

She says it is difficult to imagine that Russia’s strategy aims to target healthcare workers, because it could in turn target them themselves.

After all, the Russians themselves would be interested in being able to have their health personnel at the front and evacuate the wounded in peace. Nor do they want to be exposed to that type of attack. So for me, it is not entirely logical that Russia would directly attack healthcare personnel, says Nystuen.

She emphasizes that she does not know the facts well enough when it comes to Russian attacks on health personnel.

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