Caravanserai
Crime & Justice

War crimes allegations mount as winter threatens Ukrainians

By Dmytro Gorshkov and Caravanserai

This photograph taken on November 4 shows empty graves after the exhumation of bodies in the mass graves dug during the Russian occupation in the town of Izyum, Ukraine. [Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP]

This photograph taken on November 4 shows empty graves after the exhumation of bodies in the mass graves dug during the Russian occupation in the town of Izyum, Ukraine. [Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP]

KYIV, Ukraine -- Russians have murdered, tortured and kidnapped Ukrainians in a systematic pattern that could implicate top officials in war crimes, a senior US official said Monday (November 21) as Kyiv said it had discovered four Russian torture sites in newly liberated Kherson.

Residents of Kherson identified a local landfill as the site of Russian mass cremations of fallen Russian troops during the summer, the London Guardian reported Monday. The fires filled "the air with a large cloud of smoke and a terrifying stench of burning flesh", the Guardian reported.

Also Monday, the World Health Organisation said Russia's missile attacks on Ukraine's power grid had left millions of lives at risk as the winter descended with frigid temperatures.

The damage is having "knock-out effects" on Ukraine's health system, WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge told reporters.

"This winter will be about survival," he warned, saying it would be "life-threatening for millions of people in Ukraine".

Up to three million Ukrainians could leave their homes in search of warmth and safety, he said.

"They will face unique health challenges, including respiratory infections such as COVID-19, pneumonia, influenza and the serious risk of diphtheria and measles in (an) under-vaccinated population," he added.

Residents of Kherson were told that they may evacuate to other regions given the city's heavily damaged infrastructure and services.

Power company Yasno warned of extended blackouts.

"You should be prepared for different options, even the worst ones. Stock up on warm clothes, blankets, think about options that will help you wait out a long shutdown," it said.

Torture sites

Ukraine said it had discovered four Russian torture sites in the southern city of Kherson.

Kherson was one of the earliest of the major cities that Russian forces captured when they invaded the country on February 24.

The city was retaken earlier this month after Russian forces retreated under threat from Ukrainian troops.

"Together with police officers and experts, (prosecutors) conducted inspections of four premises where, during the capture of the city, the occupiers illegally detained people and brutally tortured them," the Ukrainian prosecutor general's office said in a statement.

Russian forces had also set up "pseudo-law enforcement agencies" at detention centres in Kherson as well as in a police station, it said.

The remains of rubber truncheons, a wooden bat and "a device with which the occupiers tortured civilians with electricity" were found, it added.

Russian authorities also left behind paperwork documenting the administration of the detention sites, the prosecutor's office said.

Last week Ukrainian ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said Russian forces were responsible for "horrific" torture in Kherson, saying dozens were abused in detention and more were killed.

One Kherson resident told AFP he spent weeks in detention where he was beaten and electrocuted by Russian and pro-Russian forces.

Systematic abuse

In Washington, US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack told reporters that there was strong evidence that Russian abuses in Ukraine were not random or ad hoc.

There is mounting evidence that Russia's invasion of Ukraine "has been accompanied by systemic war crimes committed in every region where Russian forces have been deployed", she said.

Evidence from liberated areas indicates "deliberate, indiscriminate and disproportionate" attacks against civilian populations, custodial abuses of civilians and POWs, forceful removal, or filtration, of Ukrainian citizens -- including children -- to Russia, and execution-like murders and sexual violence, she told reporters.

"When we're seeing such systemic acts, including the creation of a vast filtration network, it's very hard to imagine how these crimes could be committed without responsibility going all the way up the chain of command," she said.

Russia's nine-month-old assault on Ukraine has sparked an "unprecedented array of accountability initiatives", involving numerous bodies along with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, said Van Schaack.

The bodies are co-ordinating to develop priorities and approaches "under all available jurisdictional bases," she said.

She called it a "new Nuremberg moment", a reference to the war crimes trials held in the German city after World War II.

Do you like this article?

1 Comment(s)

Comment Policy * Denotes Required Field 1500 / 1500

Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism.

Reply