KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ten months into Russia’s most recent invasion of Ukraine, overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the Kremlin’s soldiers have fought total war, disregarding international conventions regulating the treatment of people and behaviour on the battlefield.
More than 58,000 possible Russian war crimes are being investigated by Ukraine, including murders, kidnappings, indiscriminate airstrikes, and sexual assaults. The Associated Press and “Frontline” have independently confirmed more than 600 events that seem to breach the rules of war, as documented in a public database. Some of these assaults were massacres that resulted in the deaths of dozens or hundreds of people, and together they might account for thousands of war crimes.
“Ukraine is a crime scene,” Karim Khan, the head prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, told the Associated Press.
However, this vast documentation has collided with a harsh reality. While authorities have amassed a staggering amount of evidence — the conflict is one of the most well-documented in human history — it is unlikely that they will soon arrest the majority of those who pulled the trigger or administered the beatings, let alone the commanders who gave the orders and political leaders who authorised the attacks.
According to specialists, there are several causes. In a conflict zone, acquiring airtight evidence poses significant obstacles for Ukrainian authorities. In addition, the overwhelming majority of accused war criminals have eluded arrest and are now safe behind Russian borders.
Even in successful cases, the current limitations of justice are readily apparent. Consider the instance of Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank commander with a baby face who was the first Russian to be convicted for war crimes. In a Kyiv tribunal in May, he pled guilty to head-shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian citizen, for which he surrendered in March.
In that courtroom, the yearning for some mix of justice and retribution was evident. “Do you consider yourself a murderer?” the lady yelled at the Russian, whose head rested against the glass of the cage in which he was imprisoned.
“What about the guy in the coffin?” inquired a second, more insistent voice. A third insisted that the defence attorney explain how he might fight for the release of the Russian.
On appeal, the young soldier’s sentence was lowered from life in prison to 15 years. Given that he admitted to the act, said he was following instructions, and showed sorrow, the original sentence was deemed too severe, according to critics.
However, Ukrainian prosecutors have not yet been able to indict Shishimarin’s commanders or his superiors. Since March, Ukraine has designated more than 600 Russians as suspects, the majority of them are high-ranking political and military personnel, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. However, the most powerful have not yet been captured by the Ukrainian government.
“It would be dreadful to discover a situation in which you convict a few of low- or mid-level military personnel or paramilitary personnel of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the top table walks free,” said Philippe Sands, a famous British human rights lawyer.
Throughout the duration of the conflict, Russian commanders refuted allegations of cruelty.
Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, said that no people were tortured or murdered in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, despite the detailed documenting of such atrocities by the Associated Press, other journalists, and war crimes investigators.
“Not a single local has been the victim of any violent act,” he claimed, calling the photographs and videos of corpses in the streets a “gross fabrication” perpetrated by the Ukrainians.
Since the Kremlin authorised the unprovoked invasion in February, Ukrainian and international authorities, human rights organisations, and journalists have methodically recorded Russian barbarism to refute such claims.
The AP and Frontline database titled Conflict Crimes Watch Ukraine provides a current chronicle of the atrocities of war as part of this initiative. It is not an exhaustive account. The Associated Press and Frontline only featured incidences that could be confirmed by photographs, recordings, or eyewitness testimonies. There are hundreds of alleged instances of suspected war crimes for which there is insufficient publicly accessible information for independent verification.
Nonetheless, the database documents 10 months of strikes that seem to breach the rules of war, including 93 attacks on schools, 36 where children were murdered, and more than 200 direct attacks on civilians, including torture, kidnapping and murdering people, and mutilation of dead corpses. Churches, cultural institutions, hospitals, food facilities, and electrical infrastructure are among Russia’s objectives.
The database documents Russia’s use of cluster bombs and other indiscriminate weapons in residential zones and against civilian structures.
An analysis by the Associated Press indicated that Russia’s bombardment of a theatre in Mariupol that was being used as a refuge for civilians certainly killed over 600 people. In the first 30 days after the invasion, Russian soldiers attacked and destroyed 34 medical institutions, indicating a pattern and purpose.
Stephen Rapp, a former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, said, “That’s a violation of the rules of war.” “An wounded individual is entitled to medical attention. One cannot assault a hospital. This is the first norm in international law.”
The Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, which founded the International Criminal Court and specified particular war crimes and crimes against humanity, have been routinely disregarded by Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, according to experts.
“These abuses are not the work of rogue units; rather, they are part of a deeply disturbing pattern of abuse consistent with Russia’s prior military engagements in Chechnya, Syria, and Georgia,” U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack stated earlier this month at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Experts think it is improbable that Putin and other high-ranking Russians would wind up in court in Ukraine or The Hague without a regime change in Moscow.
And despite the fact that a chorus of world leaders have joined Ukrainians in demanding for legal action against the war’s architects, there is disagreement about the most effective manner to do it.
Potential war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine have been investigated by the International Criminal Court. But it cannot pursue the most fundamental crime, aggression – the unlawful use of armed force against another country – because the Russian Federation, like the United States, has never granted it the right to do so.
In Ukraine, efforts to close this gap by establishing a special international tribunal for the crime of aggression are gathering traction. The European Union lent its backing to the concept last month.
Some human rights activists believe that a special tribunal would be the most prudent course of action. The British human rights attorney Sands said that suing Russia before such a court would be a “slam dunk.”
“You would have to demonstrate that the war violates international law,” he continued. Mr. Putin has outlined the grounds for that conflict, and it is glaringly evident that they do not comply with international law.
However, Khan, the International Criminal Court’s main prosecutor, has resisted the formation of a separate tribunal, calling it a “vanity project.”
In July, Khan told AP and Frontline, “We are an international court.” “We have been recognised as genuine by the Security Councilors. This court has been used for referrals. And I believe we should concentrate on making good use of this court.”
Regardless of what occurs on the global stage, the great majority of cases will be handled in Ukraine.
Yurii Bielousov is tasked with transforming the troubled Ukrainian prosecuting office into a bureaucracy capable of generating complex war crimes cases.
Bielousov recognised the war crimes division of the prosecutor general’s office would be challenging when he was given the position. When the Russians withdrew from Bucha this spring, they left behind a crime scene littered with the rotting remains of more than 450 men, women, and children.
Bucha was the first complicated case Bielousov’s prosecutors took on, and it swiftly became the most crucial. No one in Ukraine has before dealt with anything of such a magnitude.
Bielousov said, “The system was not in collapse, but it was shaken.” “All right, everyone, let’s go and just do our best.”
Each of Ukraine’s five investigative organisations is tasked with investigating a certain kind of crime. Bucharest’s crimes span all of these categories, complicating the bureaucracy. This has just made it more difficult to develop strong arguments.
Bielousov asserts that despite difficulties and obstacles, his prosecutors are committed to obtaining evidence that will hold up in local and international courts. He asserts that he is likewise intent on assembling an irrefutable record of Russia’s barbarism that the world cannot ignore.
Yulia Truba desires the same thing. Her spouse was among the first persons Russian forces in Bucha tortured and murdered. She said that she wants a single, common truth about her husband’s demise.
Truba said, “Russia will not recognise this as a crime.” “I just want people to acknowledge that it was a true murder and that he was tortured. This would be fair in my eyes.”