Britain pledges help to probe Russian war crimes as report tells of ‘real-life horror story’ in Ukraine

·3 min read
At least 20 people were killed by a Russian airstrike in Vinnytsia on Thursday (AFP via Getty Images)
At least 20 people were killed by a Russian airstrike in Vinnytsia on Thursday (AFP via Getty Images)

Russia is accused in a new report of carrying out a horrific campaign of killings, rapes and torture in Ukraine as an international summit is held to bring those responsible for war crimes to justice.

Senior figures in the military and political hierarchy in Moscow are being targeted by investigators for being culpable for brutal atrocities, as well as the soldiers carrying out the acts on the ground, according to western officials.

The Ukraine Accountability Conference in The Hague, at which Britain was among the nations pledging help, was held on Thursday as at least 20 people, including children, were killed in a Russian missile strike in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine – an attack President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned as “an act of open terrorism by a killer state.”

Britain will provide a £2.5m support package to Ukrainian prosecutors including deployment of mobile justice teams and training of forensic teams, of up to 90 judges and UK personnel helping with victims of sexual violence.

More than 21,900 alleged Russian war crimes are under investigation at present along with another 11,000 that are termed acts against national security under Ukrainian law, and 800 for acts of looting and theft.

More than 6,000 civilians have died, including 348 children and 7,571 have been injured, including 650 children.

Authorities in Kyiv have identified 127 “credible suspects” but only 15 are under detention in Ukraine.

A senior western source said international lawyers are also considering “the crime of aggression and looking at a number of individuals including representatives of the Russian supreme military command and a large number of senior politicians”.

The source added: “Russians do not recognise war crimes in the sense that they see anything they do as being necessary to achieve their objective and if that includes committing a war crime then that is just going to happen.”

Ukraine’s prosecutor-general Iryna Venediktova speaks at the Ukraine Accountability Conference in The Hague on Thursday (Reuters)
Ukraine’s prosecutor-general Iryna Venediktova speaks at the Ukraine Accountability Conference in The Hague on Thursday (Reuters)

President Volodymyr Zelensky said world democracies “are willing to do everything necessary to make every Russian terrorist responsible for evil against Ukrainians,” adding: “We must coordinate our efforts … there will be a tribunal”.

Neil Bush, the UK representative to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said the organisation’s second war crimes report charts “a real-life horror story”.

He described the accounts of “torture, execution of civilians, rape of women, rape of children, targeting of civilians, shallow graves, victim activated booby traps, the killing of journalists, targeting of hospitals, schools, the use of cluster ammunition” as “an affront to humanity, it is depravity itself”.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Russia was carrying out “unjustified military aggression and violation of international law...Let me be clear, the perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes must and will be held accountable”.

The OSCE report expressed “grave concern” about the fate of tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have been sent to around 20 “filtration centres” set up by Moscow.

Those taken there are subjected to “harsh interrogations and humiliating body searches”. Those deemed to have links with the Kyiv government “ often simply disappear” with some transferred to Russian authorities where they may end up dead.

The report pointed to “grave breaches of international humanitarian law”, particularly in the towns of Bucha and Irpin, where they saw “signs of torture and ill-treatment on the corpses of killed civilians” that showed a “disregard of the principle of humanity”.