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.

Russia tortures more Ukrainian POWs and sentences them en masse to 27 years for defending Ukraine

Halya Coynash
Russia has staged another fake ‘trial’ on occupied territory and has already sentenced Ukrainian prisoners of war to hundreds of years’ imprisonment, accusing them of the war crimes that Russian armed forces are committing

One of the Ukrainian POWs clearly reading a memorized ’confession’ almost certainly obtained through torture Russian IC video

One of the Ukrainian POWs clearly reading a memorized ’confession’ almost certainly obtained through torture Russian IC video

Russia has staged another mass ‘trial’ of Ukrainian prisoners of war, sentencing ten men to 26-27 year’s maximum-security imprisonment. The new ‘sentences’ were passed by an unrecognized ‘court’ on occupied territory, with the claim that the men had shelled residential buildings almost certainly based solely on ‘confessions’ obtained from men held incommunicado and without access to independent lawyers.  The ‘trial’ was reported, post-fact, by Russia’s ‘Investigative Committee’ just three days after a damning UN report detailing Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainian civilian targets and its systematic torture of Ukrainian prisoners of war.

Virtually all of Russia’s huge number of ‘trials’ of Ukrainian POWs follow the same pattern, and the one announced on 18 March was no exception.  Although the Russian Investigative Committee claims that it gathered ‘the evidence’, the supposed trial is reported as having taken place in the unrecognized ‘high court’ of Russia’s proxy ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [‘DPR’].  The ten men are all identified as being from Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, which most of the Russian state-controlled sources refer to as “a nationalist regiment’, although it is simply a part of Ukraine’s Armed Forces.

The men are alleged to have, “during the period from 25 February to 19 March 2022” carried out indiscriminate shelling of residential buildings and civilian infrastructure in Stary Krym and Lebedynske, which Russian sources claim to be parts of ‘DPR’.  Five homes were, purportedly, damaged, with their owners sustaining significant losses, however nobody was hurt.

The charges are essentially those that Russia always uses for such ‘trials’.  The men were accused of ‘attempted murder of two or more people carried out by an organized group in a manner dangerous to the public and motivated by enmity and hostility towards a social group’ (various parts of Articles 105 and 30 of Russia’s criminal code); ‘‘using prohibited means and methods in an armed conflict’ (Article 356 § 1); and deliberate damage to others’ property through explosions, causing considerable damage (Article 167 § 2). 

Russia has not even bothered to make the charges credible, with the allegations very vague and essentially covering the entire period of Russia’s full-scale invasion until the Ukrainian soldiers were taken prisoner.  As noted, the only ‘evidence’ is in supposed ‘confessions’ which can be heard from three of the men who are, almost certainly, reciting something they have been forced to learn off by heart.  We know from all those hostages, POWs and political prisoners, held in Russian or Russian occupation captivity since 2014, that such ‘confessions’ were extracted through electric shocks, beatings, mock executions and other forms of torture.  Most former prisoners explain that they had to sign or read out memorized ‘confessions’, or face further torture. 

The latest ‘trial’ really was wholesale persecution with it unclear even who got sentences of 26 years, who 27, and what, if anything, was the reason for the difference in sentence.  The ten POWs are: Artem Filin; Leonid Hlushchenko; Yevhen Horiainov; Kostiantyn Oleinyk; Oleh Ponomarenko; Yan Serhiyenko; Serhiy Shchepkiv; Mykola Shcherbatov; Vadym Tsopan; and Ilya Voronovych.   

Prisoners of war have protected status under international law and must not be ‘tried’ simply for carrying out their military duties.  Torture is prohibited in absolutely all cases, with this including the virtual starvation and horrific conditions to which Ukrainian POWs are subjected.  POW status would not, in principle, prevent a person from being charged with war crimes, including deliberate attacks on civilian targets.  Such war crimes would, however, need to be proven, and any trial held in full accordance with rule of law and human rights.  Instead, Russia is holding effectively secret ‘trials’ on illegally occupied territory and refusing to allow international monitors to see the POWs.  It is unlikely that the latter had any lawyers, and the videoed ‘confessions’ give very serious grounds for assuming that the men were subjected to torture.

The ‘trials’ and sentences are propaganda stunts, as well as part of Russia’s ongoing attempts to rewrite the facts about its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes its armed forces have committed against Ukrainians.  The Ukrainian POWs were defending their own country which was under attack by an invader relentlessly bombing and shelling Ukrainian cities, towns and villages.  Russia’s attempts to claim that it was Ukrainian soldiers who bombed or shelled civilian targets in ‘DPR’ are as cynical as its use of terms like ‘liberation’ for those cities such as Mariupol and Avdiivka which it first virtually destroyed.   

The above-mentioned report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine was the third since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  All three reports have documented and condemned Russia’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians.  The 15 March press release stated that “the multiplicity of such attacks confirms a pattern of disregard by Russian armed forces for possible harm to civilians.”  The UN investigators had spoken with a large number of witnesses of the attacks and siege of Mariupol. “Residents described unbearable suffering endured during relentless shelling and aerial bombardments which caused large-scale death, injury, and destruction.”  The report also presented the considerable evidence that Russia is systematically torturing and ill-treating prisoners of war. 

See: UN report demolishes Russia’s attempts to blame Ukrainian POWs for its atrocities in Mariupol

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