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.

The youngest victim of Russia’s Bucha atrocities was less than two years old

Halya Coynash
It is two years since Ukraine’s Armed Forces liberated Bucha with the world learning of the atrocities that the Russians had committed there, and Putin ‘honouring’ the chief suspects of such war crimes

Bucha Exhumation of a mass grave Photo posted by Andriy Niebytov, National Police

Bucha Exhumation of a mass grave Photo posted by Andriy Niebytov, National Police

The bodies of 422 civilians killed by the Russians were uncovered after the liberation of Bucha in Kyiv oblast, with 1,190 bodies found in the Bucha area altogether.  These figures issued on the second anniversary of Russia’s retreat by Andriy Niebytov, Deputy Head of the National Police, do not include all of those who disappeared without trace under Russian occupation.   Nor do they reflect the true scale of the atrocities committed by the Russian forces during 28 days of occupation. In April 2022, while Ukrainian and international investigators and media reeled over the first photos, videos and witness accounts from liberated parts of Kyiv oblast, Russian leader Vladimir Putin issued a decree ‘honouring’ the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade, believed to be behind a huge number of crimes. Putin talked of “mass heroism and daring, tenacity and courage” in referring to men almost certainly responsible for rapes, torture, indiscriminate killings and looting.   Russia has since imprisoned a number of its own citizens for openly speaking or writing about the crimes committed in Bucha and other parts of Ukraine under occupation.

Current Time marked the second anniversary of the Ukrainian Armed Forces liberation of Bucha on 31 March 2022 by speaking with witnesses of the atrocities committed.   They cite Ukraine’s prosecutor in speaking of over 600 civilians, with many also tortured.  The bodies of 60 victims remain unidentified to this day.

Father Andriy (Halavin), Head of the Church of St Andriy the First-Called in Bucha, recalled some of the victims, including the youngest, an infant, born in July 2020.  In March 2022, as the number of those killed kept rising and the Russian invaders refused to allow burials at the local cemetery, a decision was taken to bury the dead in a mass grave in the churchyard.   After the city’s liberation, 117 bodies were exhumed.  They included thirty women, one aged almost 100, and two children.  It is in this place that a memorial was erected, with name plaques honouring the victims.  Father Andriy says that he is haunted by the memory of those days, of seeing the bodies of Bucha residents whom the Russians had murdered and left lying on the street.  He was present during the exhumation of the mass grave and recalls that most of the victims had been shot or tortured to death by the Russians. Some of the bodies were charred.  In early April 2022, Ukraine’s Ombudswoman Liudmyla Denisova reported that the naked bodies had been found of four or five women.  The invaders had piled them together and tried to burn them.  Among other victims was 23-year-old Karina Yershova, who was raped before being shot dead.

Father Andriy knew very many of the victims.  He explained to the Current Time correspondent that he has photos of the bodies, but these are too graphic to publish.  One, for example, was of a chorist from the Church who was only 30.  You can see from the photo that the invaders had cut his hand off.  They had tortured him in his own home, with neighbours hearing his mother’s anguished cries.

In December 2022 the UN’s Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine reported that Russian forces had summarily executed or caused the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy oblasts from the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine until 6 April 2022. In Bucha, they had documented the killing of 73 civilians (54 men, 16 women, 2 boys and 1 girl) and was in the process of corroborating an additional 105 alleged killings.

Ukraine’s National Police also report that they have identified over a thousand Russians who took part in the invasion of Kyiv oblast in 2022.  Of these, over 100 are suspected of having committed war crimes.  They have also established the identity of each Russian commander who issued criminal orders.  Scrutiny of the enemy’s behaviour and tactics have led them to conclude that the killings in Bucha were not the uncontrolled behaviour of certain individuals, with a clear link evident between the specific commanders of particular units and the number of killings.

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