Amnesty International says it has found evidence of war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine

·4 min read
A tribute of flowers on the site of a mass grave behind the Church of St. Andrew and All Saints in Bucha, Ukraine. (CBC News/Murray Brewster - image credit)
A tribute of flowers on the site of a mass grave behind the Church of St. Andrew and All Saints in Bucha, Ukraine. (CBC News/Murray Brewster - image credit)

Amnesty International announced Friday that it has evidence of alleged war crimes committed earlier this year by Russian forces in the Kyiv region during the invasion of Ukraine.

Investigators from the human rights group have been documenting alleged war crimes in eight cities around the Ukrainian capital since the end of February.

The names of some of those places may already be familiar. They include Bucha and Borodyanka, where Ukrainian authorities and the international media shocked the world with images of bound and slaughtered civilians and mass graves.

Amnesty International has interviewed survivors and collected evidence, said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty's secretary general.

"In other words, we know that the crimes committed against people living around here are not merely anecdotal," she told a news conference in Kyiv following the release of the investigation report. "We know they are part of a pattern that has characterized Russia's conduct of the hostilities from the outset."

Spent ammunition matched with Russian military units

The human rights group said that, as part of its forensic study, it matched specific samples of spent ammunition with specific elite Russian military units accused of carrying out the atrocities.

Amnesty said it has documented unlawful airstrikes on Borodyanka that killed as many as 40 people.

The attacks were disproportionate and indiscriminate, devastated an entire neighbourhood and left thousands of people homeless, the report concluded.

In Bucha and several other towns and villages northwest of Kyiv, Amnesty International said it documented 22 cases of unlawful killings by Russian forces — most of which appeared to be extrajudicial executions.

CBC News/Murray Brewster
CBC News/Murray Brewster

Many of those cases — and the heartbreaking stories of the families involved — played out in front of Yulia, a clerk at a tiny shop called Memory Kings, which is tucked behind the city's morgue. Every day she looks out the window at two tractor trailer refrigerators where bodies have been stored.

She said Russian troops in the first wave were respectful, but those who followed were cruel. She said that although she never witnessed an atrocity directly, both she and her husband saw bodies piling up in the street.

Yulia said they wanted to go out and collect them, and even commandeered a wheelbarrow to do so before a Russian soldier stopped them and threatened them.

"'If you touch them, you'll be next,' he told us," said Yulia, who spoke with CBC News and gave only her first name.

Life since the invasion, she said, has taken on an unreal, dreamlike quality — she can't believe what has happened to her community and to other Ukrainian communities that are either occupied or under direct bombardment.

"And now in Kharkiv and Mariupol, children and women are now struggling," she said. "I understand. I feel what they are feeling. I understand what they're feeling in Mariupol and Kharkiv."

WATCH | Building a case for war crimes in Bucha:

"It is vital that all those responsible, including up the chain of command, are brought to justice," said Callamard.

Dozens of witnesses interviewed

Amnesty investigators interviewed 45 people who witnessed — or had first-hand knowledge of — unlawful killings of their relatives and neighbours by Russian soldiers, and 39 others who witnessed or had first-hand knowledge of airstrikes that targeted eight residential buildings.

"All of it. The aggression. The bombardment. The wanton killing. The ruined villages and cities. All of it is a choice that did not have to be made," Callamard said.

She warned that the ability of Ukraine and the international community to investigate so many atrocities at once is being stretched to the limit. The world, Callamard said, has not averted its gaze from Ukraine — but she blasted those who've downplayed, dismissed or excused atrocities.

Amnesty also acknowledged it had looked at allegations by Russian authorities that Russian prisoners of war were mistreated by the Ukrainians.

Specifically, it examined a video that circulated online and established that it is authentic.

 CBC News/Murray Brewster
CBC News/Murray Brewster

Callamard said her organization doesn't discriminate and believes that all possible war crimes deserve a full investigation.

Amnesty noted that a recent Ukrainian law that mandates co-operation with the International Criminal Court on war crimes investigations specifically excludes allegations made against Ukrainian forces.

Callamard said any justice processes or mechanisms need to be as comprehensive as possible, and ensure that all perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression in Ukraine are brought to justice in fair trials, without recourse to the death penalty.

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