Which Attacks In Ukraine Are Being Investigated As Russia's Alleged War Crimes?

More than 6,000 cases of potential war crimes have already been opened, according to Ukraine's prosecutor general.
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Rescuers clear debris at the site of a multi-story residential building destroyed by the russian army shelling, Borodyanka, Kyiv Region, western Ukraine.
Rescuers clear debris at the site of a multi-story residential building destroyed by the russian army shelling, Borodyanka, Kyiv Region, western Ukraine.
Future Publishing via Getty Images

The accusations of Russia’s war crimes begin to pile up – but which of the sickening attacks in Ukraine might actually mean Vladimir Putin ends up in an international court?

The first incident was the massacre at the Ukrainian city of Bucha which suggested the war had taken a seismic turn. Just a few days later, two more regions were hit with devastating attacks.

In eastern Ukraine, the city of Kramatorsk was hit with an air strike last Friday, killing dozens of evacuees trying to escape the Russian invasion.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed a situation “much more disastrous” than the Bucha atrocities was emerging in Borodyanka, on the other side of the country, although Moscow still denies any allegations of war crimes.

The two more recent attacks have contributed to the growing accusations that Russia has committed war crimes by targeting civilians, just after the UN general assembly suspended the country from the UN human rights council.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova is leading the investigation, and told the BBC that more than 6,000 cases of war crimes have already been opened.

She also warned that she believes they have grounds “to talk about genocide” – the ultimate war crime that has a strict legal definition and has rarely been proven in court since it was cemented in humanitarian law after the Holocaust.

The 1948 Genocide Convention defines genocide as crimes committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”.

Cases put before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague generally take years to reach a verdict, and while the possibility of ever seeing Putin in a tribunal could be slim, this is still the ultimate ambition.

Venediktova told CNN said Ukraine has identified more than 500 suspects. “We want to prosecute these war criminals in our Ukrainian courts, named by Ukraine,” Venediktova said, while acknowledging the role of the ICC.

Here’s a breakdown of the attacks which are under additional scrutiny by Ukraine as it seeks international justice.

<strong>Ukrainian firefighters are seen trying to put the fire out a burning shopping mall after a Russian attack in Kremenchuk, Poltava region, on June 27.</strong>
Ukrainian firefighters are seen trying to put the fire out a burning shopping mall after a Russian attack in Kremenchuk, Poltava region, on June 27.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Kremenchuk shopping centre bombing

At least 18 people were killed and 40 more were wounded on Monday, when Russia bombed a shopping centre in Ukraine. Around 1,000 people were inside the building shortly before air alerts instructed the crowds to evacuate.

The blast was so intense it reportedly blew out most windows in the surrounding buildings and the cars below.

A local resident Valentina Vitkovska told PA: “Everything is now destroyed. We are the only people left living in this part of the building. There is no power.

“I can’t even call to tell others what has happened to us.”

The attack came as part of a renewed effort from Russian forces to attack Ukraine, after failing to secure any significant victories more than four months into their invasion.

The leaders of the G7, who were at a summit at the time, said: “We, the leaders of the G7, solemnly condemn the abominable attack on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk.

“We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack. Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime.

“Russian president Putin and those responsible will be held to account.”

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“Imagine if we allowed Putin to get away with the violent acquisition of huge chunks of another country, sovereign, independent territory,” prime minister Boris Johnson told the BBC.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy also described the strike as “one of the most daring terrorist acts in European history”, while other Ukrainian officials noted that there were no military targets nearby which Russia could have been aiming for.

“Only completely heartless terrorists, who should have no place on earth, can strike missiles at such an object. And this is not a mistaken hit by missiles, this is a calculated Russian strike at this shopping centre,” he added.

Russian deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, appeared to sidestep such accusations, claiming on Twitter that the attack was a “Ukrainian provocation” and what the country needs to “keep focus of attention on Ukraine before Nato Summit”.

Bucha massacre

Bucha – just 16 miles away from Kyiv – was targeted by the Russian forces on their way to conquer the capital in March.

Russian forces then began to withdraw from the region towards the end of the month, reportedly due to a shortage of resources, meaning journalists were able to access the beleaguered town once again.

The Associated Press released images from the town showing bodies on the Bucha streets, with their hands tied behind their backs and wounds to the back of their heads. According to the news agency, at least 21 bodies were found, with at least nine of them in civilian clothing.

Local authorities said more than 300 residents in the town had been killed, while Ukrainian prosecutors alleged Russian forces used the basement of one house as a torture chamber.

The revelations have prompted a global outcry.

Residents in this area are still trying to uncover those who died. Venediktova was watching the exhumation of another mass grave this week, where 10 further victims were uncovered.

<strong>Forensic technicians exhume the bodies of civilians who Ukrainian officials say were killed during Russia's invasion and then buried in a mass grave in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv.</strong>
Forensic technicians exhume the bodies of civilians who Ukrainian officials say were killed during Russia's invasion and then buried in a mass grave in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv.
Volodymyr Petrov via Reuters

As French forensic experts have arrived in Bucha to help Ukraine authorities establish what happened, Venediktova said, citing witnesses, that the burnt body parts inside were those of a woman and her two children.

“We have now a lot of jobs unfortunately with war crimes,” Venediktova said at the churchyard site, where locals hastily buried people who died during the town’s occupation.

Moscow has called allegations that Russian forces executed civilians in Bucha while they occupied the town a “monstrous forgery” aimed at denigrating the Russian army.

On Monday, the French authorities said the team, which includes experts on ballistics, explosives, and rapid DNA testing, would also be able to contribute what they find to an ICC investigation.

Local priest Andriy Halavin said their work would help prove to the world what happened to the people of Bucha, including those recently unearthed in his churchyard.

“They didn’t just die from explosions, by chance, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they were deliberately shot,” Halavin said.

“Some were in cars, driving, and they were shot. Some were walking on the street and they were shot.

“It’s very important that the whole world sees the truth because Russian propaganda always tells stories and lies.”

Kramatorsk air strike

At least 39 people died on Friday after an air strike hit a train station in the eastern Dontesk region and 87 more wounded, according to local officials.

Although Reuters has been unable to verify exactly what happened at the station, or the photos which emerged, Ukrainian authorities claim the railway was packed with women, children and elderly people trying to flee.

The two rockets hit after some local Ukrainian authorities started encouraging people in the area to leave if possible, because a Russian attack was anticipated.

According to the Kramatorsk mayor, Oleksander Honcharenko, around 4,000 people were at the station at the time. He added: “They (Russian forces) wanted to hit the station).”

The governor of the Donetsk region Pavlo Kyrylenko said: “The Rashists [Russian fascists] knew very well where they were aiming and what they wanted: they wanted to sow panic and fear, they wanted to take as many civilians as possible.”

He shared photographs of the devastation online, showing the bodies on the ground besides luggage, surrounded by armed police and an area filled with grey smoke.

<strong>A view of the scene after over 30 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a Russian attack on a railway station in eastern Ukraine on April 8.</strong>
A view of the scene after over 30 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a Russian attack on a railway station in eastern Ukraine on April 8.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A rocket with the words “for our children” in Russian lay next to the building.

Zelenskyy also said no Ukrainian troops were at the station then, telling the Finnish parliament: “Russian forces hit the train station in Kramatorsk [firing] on an ordinary train station, on ordinary people, there were no soldiers there.”

However, Russia has denied it was behind the strike and said the missile used in the attack is only used by the Ukrainian military. The Russian defence ministry also allegedly that its armed forces did not have any targets assigned to the area on Friday.

The Kremlin has denied that it is targeting civilians even since the Russian invasion.

Until last week, this city had been left pretty much unscathed by the invasion.

According to the head of Ukraine’s railway company, Alexander Kamyskin, two rockets hit the station and three trains carrying evacuees were blocked on Thursday after an airstrike.

The attack came as Russia’s forces redirected their efforts to the east, having been driven back by the Ukrainian forces in the west.

Bombardment of Borodyanka

Shortly before the air strike on Kramatorsk, Ukraine authorities had drawn the public’s attention to the horrors emerging in a city where Russian soldiers have now withdrawn, Borodyanka, and said it was even worse than the Bucha massacre uncovered earlier this week.

Located in the Kyiv region, the destruction of Borodyanka was described as “the worst for its size I have seen in any of the towns around Kyiv” by the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, who has been covering the war.

<strong>An elderly woman walks past a block of flats destroyed by Russian shelling in the city of Borodyanka.</strong>
An elderly woman walks past a block of flats destroyed by Russian shelling in the city of Borodyanka.
Future Publishing via Getty Images

The area has been heavily shelled, leaving buildings completely ruined – the streets are covered in rubble, making it hard to understand the magnitude of the attack.

Witnesses told the BBC “Russian troops stopped attempts to dig survivors out of wrecked buildings, threatening people who wanted to do so at gunpoint”.

However, Bowen explained: “The extent of what was done to civilians in Borodyanka during the Russian occupation is not yet clear.”

Commenting on the impact to regular civilians and their homes, he said: “The laws of war state civilians are protected and killing them is a crime unless they are involved with military action.”

The ruins of Borodyanka
The ruins of Borodyanka
NurPhoto via Getty Images

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