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‘Systemic war crimes’ evident everywhere in Ukraine where Russia deployed, US says

People stand next to a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, April 4, 2022. Russia is facing a fresh wave of condemnation after evidence emerged of what appeared to be deliberate killings of dozens if not hundreds of civilians in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) Rodrigo Abd/AP

‘Systemic war crimes’ evident everywhere in Ukraine where Russia deployed, US says

Mike Brest

November 22, 11:38 AM November 22, 11:38 AM

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There is “mounting evidence” that Russian forces have committed “systemic war crimes” in every region “where Russia’s forces have been deployed” in Ukraine, Beth Van Schaack, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, told reporters on Monday.

The U.S. has seen “deliberate, indiscriminate, and disproportionate attacks against the civilian population and elements of the civilian infrastructure,” she said, adding that they’ve also received intelligence on “custodial abuses of civilians and [prisoners of war] and efforts to cover up these crimes.”

Russia most recently withdrew from the Kherson region in the south, a strategic city it had occupied since the early days of the war. Ukrainian officials are still uncovering the apparent war crimes committed by Russian forces during their occupation.

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Denys Monastyrsky, Ukraine’s interior minister, said last week that investigators had discovered more than 60 bodies that showed signs of torture, though he noted the number will almost definitely continue to rise. He said they had uncovered 436 different war crimes committed in Kherson.

The situation in Kherson is the latest in a pattern. Russian forces retreat from an area they occupied and the Ukrainians in the region are left to uncover horrific scenes, which often include torture chambers, signs of civilian executions, and sexual violence.

“We have reports of citizens being killed execution-style, with their hands bound,” Van Schaack said. “We have bodies that show signs of torture. We have horrific accounts of gender-based violence, including sexual violence against women and children. Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General has already identified thousands of incidents that may constitute war crimes. And all of this is without yet knowing what is unfolding in areas that are still under Russia’s occupation or control. And so we expect that additional evidence will continue to mount as these areas are liberated.”

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“What we’re seeing in these images, videos, and reports, including witness accounts, suggest that these atrocities are not the acts of rogue units or individuals,” she continued. “Rather, they are part of a deeply disturbing pattern of reports of abuse across all areas where we’re seeing Russia’s forces engage.”

The reported war crimes also include the targeting of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, which has been a more recent objective of Russian forces as the winter months begin. Russia’s attempted sabotage of Ukraine’s energy sector has left millions without consistent electricity, clean water, and heat.

“With the onset of winter, families will be without power, and more importantly, without heat. Basic human survival and subsistence is going to be severely impacted, and human suffering for the Ukrainian population is going to increase,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters last week. “These strikes will undoubtedly hinder Ukraine’s ability to care for the sick and the elderly. Their hospitals will be partially operational. The elderly are going to be exposed to the elements.”

It’s difficult to determine whether specific strikes constitute war crimes, Van Schaak explained, because “each individual strike has to be evaluated as against whether there were military objectives in the vicinity, or whether these were purely civilian objects,” but she added, “There is a consistent pattern of attacks on civilian elements.”

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