UN Investigators Find Growing Evidence of Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

A new report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine documents a growing body of evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine.

The report, which was submitted to the U.N. human rights council Monday, presents a picture of widespread violations and abuse against the civilian population and of wanton, large-scale destruction of essential infrastructure.

“The commission is concerned by the continuous evidence of war crimes committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine,” said Erik Mose, chair of the commission.

“Well into the second year of the armed conflict, people in Ukraine have been continuing to cope with the loss and injury of loved ones, large-scale destruction, suffering and trauma as well as economic hardship that have resulted from it,” he said. “Thousands have been killed and injured, and millions remain internally displaced or out of the country.”

Russia boycotted the proceedings and was not in the room to respond to these charges. In the past it has denied targeting civilians.

Latest figures from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights put the number of civilian deaths at 9,614 and injuries at 17,535 since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The agency, however, notes the number of casualties is likely to be much higher.

Statistics from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, show 5.1 million people are displaced within Ukraine and another 6,197,200 have fled to other countries as refugees.

Since it was established in March 2022, the three-member commission has visited Ukraine more than 10 times, gathering information from government authorities and “listening to harrowing testimonies” from victims and witnesses of abuse.

“The commission regrets that all communications addressed to the Russian Federation remain unanswered,” said Mose.

The investigators report that “attacks with explosive weapons in populated areas have led to extensive destruction and damage and have been the leading cause of deaths and injuries among the civilian population.”

They have documented explosive weapons attacks against residential buildings, a railway station, commercial warehouses, medical and other key facilities that have disrupted essential services and supplies.

FILE - The interior of a children's hospital hit by a Russian military strike is seen in Kherson, Ukraine Jan. 1, 2023.

FILE – The interior of a children’s hospital hit by a Russian military strike is seen in Kherson, Ukraine Jan. 1, 2023.

“In most cases, there seemed to not have been a military presence at the affected sites or in their vicinity,” said Mose.

In Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, regions which had been under prolonged Russian occupation, the commission collected further evidence indicating that the use of torture by Russian armed forces in areas under their control has been widespread and systematic, noting that the principal targets of torture were persons accused of being informants of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Mose told the council that torture mostly took place in various detention centers controlled by Russian authorities and that “the torture was inflicted with such brutality that it caused the death of some of the victims.”

He said the armed conflict has had devastating consequences for children and that the commission is continuing to investigate individual situations of alleged transfers of unaccompanied minors by Russian authorities to the Russian Federation.

“It regrets that there is a lack of clarity and transparency on the full extent, circumstances, and categories of children transferred,” said Mose.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, addressing the proceedings by video link, lambasted “the massive atrocities committed to a shocking degree by Russia in the course of its war of aggression against Ukraine.”

He spoke with passion and anger about the harm caused to the more than 19,000 Ukrainian children who have been forcibly transferred and deported from their country by Russia’s top leadership.

“Ukrainian children are stripped of their Ukrainian citizenship and put for adoption into Russian families,” he said. “It is a war crime and crimes against humanity that also could amount to crime of genocide in line with the 1948 Genocide Convention.”

Mose said the commission also was “concerned about allegations of genocide in Ukraine.”

For instance, he said that “some of the rhetoric transmitted in Russian state and other media may constitute incitement to genocide.”

He said the commission is continuing its investigations on such issues.

“We continue our efforts to collect evidence which may be of use for judicial accountability purposes,” he added.

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