war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

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Over 400 victims of Russian aggression remain unidentified in liberated Kharkiv oblast

Halya Coynash
The bodies of victims continue to be found, including those of nine people killed when the Russians opened fire on two evacuation buses near Borova in Kharkiv oblast
Victims killed when the Russians opened fire on two evacuation buses near Borova, Kharkiv oblast Photo Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office
Victims killed when the Russians opened fire on two evacuation buses near Borova, Kharkiv oblast Photo Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office

Police investigators have thus far identified 199 of the bodies discovered in mass graves, on the street or inside buildings after Ukraine’s Armed Forces liberated the parts of Kharkiv oblast that the Russian invaders had occupied.  There are, however, over 400 bodies that remain unidentified, and new victims are still being found. 

On 25 January 2023, for example, the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office reported that the bodies had been found of at least nine civilians killed when the Russians opened fire, using machine guns and other firearms, on two evacuation buses.  This horrific atrocity dates back to 14 April 2022, the day after the Russians seized Borova, an urban-type settlement in the Izium raion.  Not everybody had heeded earlier calls from the Borova Council to evacuate, and the buses were carrying 31 civilians, seemingly both residents of Izium raion and, according to the new report, residents of Donetsk oblast and Dnipro who were trying to get to Luhansk oblast.   It was first learned that the buses had come under attack on 15 April, with Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] initiating a criminal investigation under Article 438 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code (war crimes).  At that stage, it was believed that seven people had been killed, and a further 27 injured.   In fact, the investigators now say that nine people were killed, 13 injured, some seriously, and taken to a local hospital, with nine people uninjured. 

A resident of Borova can be heard on the video explaining that initial attempts to get permission to at least bury those killed were turned down.  On 11 May, however, he drove to the scene of this war crime and, finding the horrifically charred bodies just lying there, decided to bury them.  It was these graves that investigators began exhuming on 24 January 2023, with DNA samples needed to try to identify each victim.

As reported, on 25 September, 24 Ukrainian civilians, including a pregnant woman and 13 children, were killed when a convoy of six cars trying to flee the Russian shelling came under fire near Kurylivka in the Kupiansk raion of Kharkiv oblast.

It is clearly very difficult to identify the remains of many victims whose bodies may have been left where they were killed, and only later, for example, buried at the mass burial site in the forest near Izium.  Virtually all died violent deaths, with some shot and killed by the invaders, some tortured.  Oleh Syniehubov, Head of the Kharkiv Regional Administration, reported back in late September 2022 that the exhumation of the bodies buried outside Izum had been completed and that some of the bodies had been found with nooses around their necks and with hands tied.  Some had broken arms or legs, and gunshots, and several bodies had genitals cut off. 

The relatives of people who were known to have been abducted by the Russians or who disappeared have for many months now been providing investigators, including some from other countries, with DNA samples.  It was only through such DNA analyses that investigators were, unfortunately, able to confirm that one of the bodies buried in the mass burial site outside Izium was that of children’s writer, Volodymyr Vakulenko,  He had openly expressed his opposition to the Russians’ invasion and had been seized by the invaders in March 2022.   

The bodies of 451 people were uncovered at the burial site near Izium, with only 22 of these soldiers.  The rest were civilians, including seven children.  In one case, eight members of one family were killed when the Russians shelled their apartment block.

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