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.

Nine members of a family murdered in occupied Volnovakha after conflict with Russian soldiers

Halya Coynash
It is believed that Russian soldiers killed the nine members of one family, including two small children, after the children’s father refused to hand over the family’s home

Natalia Horkun (Kapkanets) with her children Nastya and Mykyta. All of them were killed on 27 October Photo posted by Astra

Natalia Horkun (Kapkanets) with her children Nastya and Mykyta. All of them were killed on 27 October Photo posted by Astra

A horrific mass murder was reported on 29 October in occupied Volnovakha, with the bodies found of nine members of a family, including two small children.  While Ukraine’s prosecutor has initiated criminal proceedings, Volnovakha has been under Russian control since March 2022, with this seriously hampering an independent investigation.  Although Russia’s Investigative Committee is, supposedly, also investigating, previous crimes committed on occupied territory leave little room for optimism, especially given that local residents and the victims’ relatives are convinced that Russians soldiers committed the crime.

According to the first reports examined by journalist Denis Kazansky, the victims, most or all of them members of the family, had gathered to celebrate the birthday of Natalia Horkun.  She was either the wife, or mother-in-law of Andriy Kapkanets, whose two children, Nastya, who was in fourth grade and her brother Mykyta who was just four years old, were also murdered. Although the reports differ as to whether the killers burst in on the family celebration or later, when everybody was asleep, they are agreed that the murders followed an earlier conflict between Andriy Kapkanets and Russian soldiers, who were probably ‘kadyrovtsi’ – Chechen fighters, linked with the regime of Ramzan Kadyrov.

The Donetsk Regional Prosecutor reports that in October, armed men in military gear, who looked as though they were from the Caucuses, had turned up and demanded that Kapkanets and his family vacate their home so that one of the units of the Russian army could move in. “Having received a refusal from the 53-year-old owner, the assailants threatened physical reprisals against members of his family and went away.”. 

They returned, the regional prosecutor says, on 27 October and shot all nine members of the family (four men, three women and two children) dead while they were asleep.  

Ukraine’s criminal proceedings are over violation of the laws and practice of war, involving intentional homicide (Article 438 § 2) with this carrying a sentence of up to life imprisonment.  If, that is, the perpetrators were caught since Russia would certainly not hand them over to face trial.

Such heinous killing by Russian military of civilians almost certainly does constitute a war crime, but Russia’s ‘investigation’ is only over ‘murder’.  It also remains to be seen whether anybody is apprehended and charged.  Russian forces have been brazenly committing war crimes in parts of Ukraine that fall under its occupation since 24 February 2022.   People throughout the world know where Bucha is, and will recall the harrowing images of bodies with hands bound behind their backs, left lying on the street or hurled into mass graves.  Russia’s only response has been to prosecute and imprison those Russians or Crimeans who write or repost the truth about such war crimes.  What is more, Russian president Vladimir Putin even handed down state awards to the regiment believed to be behind many of the war crimes in Kyiv oblast.

Russia has been protecting, sometimes even glorifying, the perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine, including those against children, since 2014.  Even when the truth partially comes out, the myths are still largely retained.

In May 2014, for example, two of the militant leaders of Russia’s proxy ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ Alexei Mozgovoy (Ukrainian Oleksiy Mozhovy) and Aleksander Kostin deliberately organized an ambush of a family who were trying to flee the conflict and were known to be travelling with a lot of money in two cars.  They told subordinates that the cars were a convoy of Ukrainian Right Sector fighters and should be shot at, while fully aware that the cars were being driven by 37-year-old Oleh Burykhin and his wife Iryna Burykhina (42) and that their 10-year-old daughter would be in one of the cars.  The little girl was the only one who survived, but with life-changing injuries (details here).

In July 2014, Vadim Pogodin and two of his subordinates tortured and murdered 16-year-old schoolboy Stepan Chubenko, after seizing him because of the ribbons in the colours of the Ukrainian flag on his rucksack.  Although there was, exceptionally, an investigation into the murder and even supposed convictions, Pogodin, who was in charge and is also believed to have fired the shot that killed Stepan, was not prosecuted, and freely moved to occupied Crimea, where he even received a lucrative job with state funding.  He was, reportedly, detained this year, but that happened once before, only for Russia to refuse to extradite him to Ukraine, and this time may well prove to again be mere noise because he annoyed somebody, and be quietly shelved.   

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