Russian forces committed horrific war crimes in Ukraine, such as rape and torture, and sometimes even made the families of victims watch, UN investigators find

·4-min read
Russian forces committed horrific war crimes in Ukraine, such as rape and torture, and sometimes even made the families of victims watch, UN investigators find
War crime prosecutor of Kharkiv Oblast stands with forensic technician and policeman at the site of a mass burial in a forest during exhumation on September 16, 2022 in Izium, Ukraine.
War crime prosecutor of Kharkiv Oblast stands with forensic technician and policeman at the site of a mass burial in a forest during exhumation on September 16, 2022 in Izium, Ukraine.Photo by Yevhenii Zavhorodnii/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images
  • A team of investigators commissioned by the UN has concluded that Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine.

  • Among the crimes are torture and rape of children, some as young as four years old, the chair of a UN inquiry said.

  • It also found evidence of executions, indiscriminate rocket attacks, and forced deportation.

Russian soldiers have committed a long list of nightmarish war crimes in Ukraine, including torturing and raping children, some as young as four years old, a United Nations investigation found.

Erik Møse, who led an independent UN mission tasked with investigating human rights violations and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, presented a series of findings to the organization's Human Rights Council on Friday.

Gathering evidence from dozens of towns across Ukraine, interviewing victims, witnesses and authorities, and inspecting mass graves and sites of torture, Møse concluded that "war crimes have been committed in Ukraine."

Møse said the commission determined that Russian soldiers engaged in sexual and gender-based violence, including various other terrible human rights violations such as torture, sexual violence, and "cruel and inhuman treatment."

"There are examples of cases where relatives were forced to witness the crimes," Møse said. "In the cases we have investigated, the age of victims of sexual and gendered-based violence ranged from four to 82 years."

He added that the commission "has documented cases in which children have been raped, tortured, and unlawfully confined. Children have also been killed and injured in indiscriminate attacks with explosive weapons."

"The exposure to repeated explosions, crimes, forced displacement and separation from family members deeply affected their well-being and mental health," Møse said.

Ukrainian authorities exhume bodies of people killed as a result of war at the Izium city after Russian Forces withdrawal in, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on September 16, 2022
Ukrainian authorities exhume bodies of people killed as a result of war at the Izium city after Russian Forces withdrawal in, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine on September 16, 2022Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Møse said the UN team uncovered a slew of other war crimes, such as the use of explosive weapons that have wide area impacts in densely populated areas. He added that many attacks were carried out "without distinguishing" between Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.

Additionally, the investigators found evidence of the usage of cluster munitions, multi-launch rocket systems, and airstrikes in crowded areas, as well as a "large number" of civilian executions. Victims of these crimes, Møse said, often had "common elements" and signs of prior detention and execution, like "hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats."

Witnesses also reported torture, illegal confinement, and kidnappings by Russian troops. Some victims said that after they were initially detained, they were sent to prisons inside of Russia, which aligns with Russia's well-documented and notorious "filtration system" — a sprawling network of interrogation, detention, and processing centers.

"Interlocutors described beatings, electric shocks, and forced nudity, as well as other types of violations in such detention facilities," Møse said. "After being reportedly transferred into detention in the Russian Federation, some victims have disappeared."

An explosion is seen in an apartment building after Russian's army tank fires in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022.
An explosion is seen in an apartment building after Russian's army tank fires in Mariupol, Ukraine, Friday, March 11, 2022.AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, File

Evidence of Russian war crimes is not a new aspect of the seven-month-long war in Ukraine. Local authorities, civilians, and journalists have documented scenes of torture, mass killings, and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. International agencies and organizations have said since early March, just days after the Russia launched its invasion, that they would probe war crimes and other human rights violations.

As recently as last week, officials discovered a mass burial site near the newly liberated city of Izium, where some bodies were found with clear evidence of torture. Ukraine's ambassador to the US said it represented "war crimes of massive proportions."

Friday's UN conclusion comes amid a particularly turbulent week in the devastating war. Pro-Moscow separatists in four occupied regions in southern and eastern Ukraine have launched referendums on jointing Russia — a move that the West and Ukraine have labeled a sham and illegitimate. And Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization of the country's reservists and new stop-loss policies, all while threatening to use nuclear weapons.

Ukrainian forces, meanwhile, have reclaimed thousands of square miles of territory that was previously under Russian occupation through successful counteroffensives along the brutal war's northeastern and southern fronts.

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