The withdrawal of the Russian army from the settlements of the Kyiv region they had captured, including Hostomel, Vorzel, Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, Dmytrivka, Motyzhyn, Makariv, Dymer, Kozarovychi, Katyuzhanka, revealed to the Ukrainians and the world new facts about the most severe mass international crimes committed by the aggressor country troops.
Yet on February 24-25, 2022, the occupational armed forces entered dozens of cities, towns and villages near Kyiv. They were broking into the houses and apartments of local habitants, robbing them, kidnapping civilians, raping women, conducting interrogations, simulating executions and demonstratively executing people (including for their refusal to comply with the requirements of vacating the house, sharing food, digging trenches). The fate of a few hundred people from Vyshgorod district’s settlements – such as Dymer, Kozarovychi, Katyuzhanka, Mykolayivka – remains unknown. Those people were detained and then held hostage in Dymer for a month.
At the same time, many residents were deprived of the opportunity to leave the occupied settlements. The so-called “green corridors” broke down, and when they were organized, just a few accessed information about them could reach the meeting point or lacked space in the provided vehicles. Therefore, people tried to flee from the war on their own. Their cars were shot. Dozens of shelled and burned cars were found on the Zhytomyr highway (between the settlements of Myla and Stoyanka). There were burned bodies in those cars and shot civilians lying on the road near the destroyed vehicles. The Russian military killed civilians and tried to burn their bodies.
The Russian army in the Kyiv region was widely using the practice of extrajudicial executions of civilians. Footage of roads dotted with the bodies of dozens of killed locals with their hands tied behind their backs is shocking. The mass graves of shot civilians in Motyzhyn, Bucha have already been known. There are the leaders of local self-government bodies of the settlements seized by the Russian military among those murdered civilians. In particular, the bodies of Motyzhyn Olga Sukhenko, the village elder, her husband and son, whom the Russians kidnapped on March 23, were found after the liberation of the Kyiv region from the occupants.
The Russian military repeatedly fired on and killed journalists who tried to record the war crimes and cover them in media to conceal their crimes. Thus, merely in March, when the Russian military seized the territory of the Kyiv region, targeted shelling and attacks there led to the death of four and the wounding of two foreign and Ukrainian journalists and cameramen.
There is an ongoing war in Ukraine, but even war has its own rules. The assassinations of civilians not involved in an armed confrontation is a brutal violation of those rules. Published photos and videos, testimonies of witnesses and victims show that the Russian army, during the seizure of settlements in the Kyiv region and the withdrawal from there, were committing large-scale war crimes against the civilian population of Ukraine and crimes against humanity. The collected facts may also indicate the commission of the crime of genocide against the Ukrainian people.
The crimes of the Russian invaders must be punished. These crimes have no forgiveness, no statute of limitations. Every fact must be adequately and thoroughly documented and end in punishment of criminals – both those who directly tortured and assassinated civilians, as well as the organizers of these bloody crimes and the top political leadership of the Russian Federation, in particular Vladimir Putin, who started and are waging the aggressive war against Ukraine.
Recommendations on the actions necessary to properly investigate the most severe crimes
in the territories recently liberated from the Russian occupiers
Realizing the importance of the proper investigation, complexity and the large scale of the Russian army crimes, the Ukraine. 5 am Coalition appeals to the Ukrainian government with the following.
After the liberation of the cities, towns and villages and demining of the territories, priority number one should be to preserve all evidence that will matter for the proper investigation by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.
The Ukrainian government should urgently create an algorithm for the actions of the law enforcement officers in the liberated territories, particularly in Bucha, Gostomel, Irpin and other settlements of the Kyiv region.
Based on the international and national experience, the documenting process conducted by the Ukraine. 5 am Coalition, taking into account the large scale and mass character of the war crimes and the crimes against humanity committed by the Russian occupants in the territories temporarily seized by them, lack of human resources and qualified specialists in the circumstances of the ongoing war in Ukraine, we urge:
- Ensure appropriate conditions for the collecting and recording of evidence and effective investigation of each crime at the national level. Investigation and collection of evidence, exhumation and identification of bodies, identification of causes and all circumstances of death should be conducted based on appropriate procedures;
- Establish the proper coordination of activities of all participants, both those who ensure the liberation of territories and those who carry out documenting and investigating the crimes. It is needed to preserve evidence, to provide conditions for the further effective and complete investigation of international crimes, protection of victims;
- Immediately after the liberation of the territories, the demining is to be carried out first, concerning the needs of the documentation and investigation. Respective experts should understand the key features of the further investigative activities and make every effort to preserve the items of interest to the investigation, including documenting the use of prohibited weapons;
- After creating the safe conditions for the investigative activities – ensure the isolation of the territories in which the crimes were committed for preventing them from unauthorized persons for the proper work of specialists and the preservation of traces and evidence before the work of investigators starts;
- Ensure an expanded composition of the investigative groups, providing the coordinating functions to the representatives of the institutions experienced explicitly in investigating the violent crimes (National Police, Security Service of Ukraine, State Investigative Bureau) given the large scale and diversity of the committed crimes. These groups should include both representatives of law enforcement agencies and a wide range of specialists, criminologists, forensic experts, who can immediately begin properly documenting and preserving evidence, interviewing the witnesses, collecting photos and video materials from residents;
- Ensure proper search and identification of all bodies and their exhumation when necessary, which should become one of the key tasks of the investigative groups. This work should be based on respect for the bodies of the victims. In case of lacking the forensic experts, it is recommended to involve, upon approval of the Ministry of Healthcare, pathologists and other medical doctors who can provide the necessary assistance and expertise;
- Appeal to the partner countries, international organizations and institutions for assistance in engaging specialists with the appropriate background to identify the bodies of the homicide victims, obtain proper equipment and other resources necessary for such work;
- MPs: in a short time to draft and adopt the amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine to ensure an effective investigation of international crimes committed in the territories of Ukrainian settlements temporarily captured by the Russian occupiers. It is necessary to abolish the restriction of the terms of the pre-trial investigations under this category of crimes, to introduce the possibility of the “remote investigation” and online interrogation of witnesses and victims, in particular, those who left the territory of Ukraine or remained in the temporarily occupied territories;
- President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: to create a proper legal framework for the legal qualification of crimes committed by the Russian occupiers, immediately promulgate the bill No. 2689, harmonizing the Ukrainian criminal legislation with the international criminal and humanitarian law, adopted in the parliament in May 2021.
We also appeal to the partner countries and international organizations to:
- Provide maximum expert and resource support to Ukraine regarding the exhumation and identification of the bodies of the victims discovered after the liberation by the Armed Forces of Ukraine of the territories temporarily captured by the Russian occupiers;
- Establish the effective work of the international humanitarian organizations, in particular, the International Committee of the Red Cross, in the processes of identification and transfer of bodies of the killed and dead with the appropriate documenting of such facts;
- To the International Criminal Court, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged human rights violations in the context of the Aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, established by the UN Human Rights Council: to launch an investigation of the facts of mass torture and murder of civilians, which indicate the presence of signs of a crime of genocide committed against the Ukrainian nation.
The Ukraine. 5 am Coalition has been working since the beginning of Russia’s large-scale invasion to protect the victims of Russian armed aggression against Ukraine and bring to justice the top political leadership of the Russian Federation and the direct perpetrators of the war crimes. The coalition includes ZMINA, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group, Regional Human Rights Center, Media Initiative for Human Rights, Institute for Peace and Understanding, Almenda Center for Civic Education, Crimea-SOS, Crimean Human Rights Group, Vostok SOS, Social Action Center, Advocacy Advisory Group, Kharkiv Institute of Social Research, DEJURE Foundation, Truth Hounds, Human Rights Education House Chernihiv, Human Rights Center “Diia”, Association of UMDPL, Ukraine without Torture, Human Rights Platform, Association for the Development of Judicial Self-Government of Ukraine, Ukrainian Healthcare Center (UHC), Expert Center for Human Rights, NGO “Gradual Group of Franks”.
ZAP, ZAP, 6 April 2022, 0:48