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.

Russians gun down disabled Ukrainian woman in wheelchair in savage offensive against Kharkiv oblast

Halya Coynash
Updated information has confirmed that the Russians murdered two elderly civilians, including a woman in a wheelchair

The body of a man in a wheelchair detected by a drone over Vovchansk Screenshot posted by Andriy Tsapliyenko

The body of a man in a wheelchair detected by a drone over Vovchansk Screenshot posted by Andriy Tsapliyenko

Ukraine’s public prosecutor has initiated a criminal investigation over the apparent killing by Russian invaders of a disabled civilian whose body can be seen slumped in a wheelchair.  The Russians would seem intent on not only razing the Kharkiv oblast town of Vovchansk to the ground, but also on killing civilians unable to flee. As well as such individual attacks, Russia is also bombing evidently civilian targets, with the latest such bombings of four villages in Kharkiv oblast on 19 May claiming the lives of 11 civilians, as well as the life of the baby one of the victims was carrying.

The criminal probe announced on 17 May by the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office is under Article 438 § 2  of Ukraine’s Criminal Code (violation of the laws and practice of war, i.e. war crime, linked with murder). It was launched the same day that journalist Andriy Tsapliyenko posted (on his Telegram channel ЦАПЛІЄНКО_UKRAINE FIGHTS) footage from a drone over Vovchanks with this showing the body of a person in a wheelchair near the hospital seized by Russian military.  The investigation is to be carried out by the Kharkiv Regional SBU [Security Service]. 

On 21 May, the prosecutor’s office reported updated information which confirms that this was a horrific war crime.  The investigators have learned that on 15 May, a 70-year-old man and his wife decided to try to flee Vovchansk, with another man deciding to join them.  The 70-year-old managed to find a wheelchair for his wife who had long had problems with her legs.  The Russians opened fire on the three civilians near the city hospital, killing the man’s wife and the other man.  He himself managed to reach the outskirts of Vovchansk from where Ukrainian defenders were able to rescue him and get him to Kharkiv.

This new crime came soon after the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office reported the killing of one Ukrainian civilian by the Russians, and enforced disappearance of another.  On 14 May, war crimes probes (under Article 438) were initiated over the shooting dead in cold blood of a 46-year-old civilian from the village of Starytsia in the Vovchansk area. Another resident disappeared during an armed attack by the Russians, with his whereabouts unknown.

On 16 May, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry reported that in the northern part of Vovchansk where fighting is intense, the Russians are not allowing civilians to evacuate.  Some residents have already been abducted and flung into the basements that the Russian invaders have everywhere used as makeshift ‘prisons’ and torture chamber.  The report on Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko’s Telegram channel, that information has emerged of the first killings of civilians by the Russians.  One resident of Vovchansk, for example, was shot and killed when he tried to flee from the city on footage and reused to comply with their command.

On 14 May, Bolvinov reported that the Russians invading Vovchansk had shot off a pensioner’s finger.  He had tried to hide, locked away in his home, however the Russians began hammering on the door and, when he didn’t let them in, simply opened fire with their machine guns.

Two volunteers who were trying to reach Vovchansk to evacuate a family disappeared on 10 May.  The police report that, according to initial information from a witness., the two men were shot at by the Russians.  One is believed to have been killed, the other injured, with his whereabouts unknown.  Bolvinov explains that the witness, a 19-year-old, came close to being killed by the invaders himself.  He had come to Vovchansk to rescue his grandmother and other relatives.   Armed Russians burst into their home while they were gathering possessions to take with them.  The young man was forced to undress and thrown into a basement.  He had tried to escape, with the Russians opening fire.  Thankfully, he survived, and managed to leave and get his grandmother out after the Russians left the building.  According to Bolvinov, both are now safely on Ukrainian-controlled territory.

None of this is new.  The Russians began abducting and torturing civilians as soon as they seized parts of Kharkiv oblast in 2022, with 28 ‘prison-torture chambers uncovered after these parts were liberated.  In January 2024, chief police investigator in Kharkiv oblast Serhiy Bolvirov reported that ten criminal investigations were underway, with 227 victims identified.  These include thirteen people who had been killed by the Russians, and a further four who had vanished without trace.  Four other Ukrainians were known to be held prisoner by the Russians. 

After being forced to retreat from occupied parts of Kharkiv oblast in the second half of 2022, Russia has returned, this time effectively razing to the ground Vovchansk and other cities in order to seize control.   Vovchansk, which is around 50 kilometres from Kharkiv, has the misfortune of being only 10 kilometres from the border with Russia.  There will be less prisoners this time, but only because of desperate efforts to evacuate the last residents of a city which once boasted a population of around 18 thousand.  As of 18 May, there were reported to be up to 100 residents still remaining, with the constant Russian shelling making it impossible to evacuate them safely.

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