Despite fighting raging in the country’s south and east, the appeal of Ukraine’s first war crimes conviction was postponed on Monday as prosecutors maintained their effort to hold Russia legally accountable for atrocities.
A Ukrainian court sentenced Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old captured Russian soldier who admitted killing a civilian, to life in prison in May. He was seen on television sitting in a glass box in the courtroom. He gave off a thin, defeated vibe. The hearing has to be moved to July 29 due to the condition of his lawyer.
In the region around the capital of Ukraine, where Russian military retreated four months ago, the process of documenting crime scenes and questioning witnesses has been largely finished. The harder part of the accountability probe right now is finding those who need to be held accountable.
During searches in the formerly occupied territory, “we regularly find documents, passports, and lists with names of participants of the units, with their complete data, including places of birth and dates of birth,” said Andrii Nebytov, chief of the Kyiv regional police, to The Associated Press. “These details have all been provided to the relevant police enforcement. The police are working along with the victims to try to find those who committed the crimes against them.
Shishimarin’s case is noteworthy in that Ukrainian authorities quickly found evidence of his involvement in the February 28 shooting of a 62-year-old man in the northeastern Sumy region. That is not the case for the vast majority of war crimes investigations now underway.
Prosecutors in Ukraine have documented more than 20,100 possible war crimes, and local police in the Kyiv region have found more than 1,300 graves.
However, according to the prosecutor general’s office, as of July, Ukrainian prosecutors have only been able to identify 127 people. 15 of them are being held as prisoners of war in Ukraine, while the rest are still at large. Three persons are suspected of sexual assault, while 64 people are accused of killing or abusing innocent bystanders on purpose.
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Shishimarin is one of ten people now being tried for war crimes in Ukraine in charges involving indiscriminate shelling, deliberate death, sexual assault, robbery, maltreatment of victims, and attacks on civilian property. The prosecutor general’s office reports that six people have been convicted.
In Ukraine, justice has been carried out in a remarkably short amount of time. War crimes cases are rarely prosecuted when a conflict is still in progress.
Ukraine’s top prosecutors have long advocated for quick trials, in part to appease a seething public thirst for justice, while working to respect legal standards that will suit domestic watchdogs and partners in the U.S. and Europe.
Ivan Bakanov, the former head of Ukraine’s SBU security service, and Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general in charge of this project, were both sacked last week for allegedly not doing enough to deal with “collaborators and traitors” in their respective departments. Her replacement is expected to be made public soon.
Even as the hunt for those responsible for war crimes intensifies, the challenging work of documenting atrocities persists.
Bodies of the turbulence and destruction from the early weeks of the crisis in Ukraine were unceremoniously buried. Each of those bodies had to be dug up for forensic examination. Nebytov asserts that even though the Kyiv regional police exhumed 1,346 bodies, more than 300 people are still unaccounted for.
In an interview on Thursday, he added, “With regard to the exhumations, I am confident that we are far from ending it. We found a man last week who had been beheaded while sporting a hat and having his hands bound behind his back. The expert claims that the victim was on his knees for the duration of the execution.
There were 38 youngsters among the dead, and the authorities have found that more than half of them were shot to death. Kiev police have found 13 mass graves in the region.
Nebytov claimed to have videotaped a long list of atrocities, including the execution of a man who had been kidnapped while gathering wood for a fire, the shooting of infants as their families tried to flee in convoys of civilians, and the discovery of the bodies of civilians who had been taken in for questioning by Russian forces and had been shot in the head, knees, and hands.
“I can say that there is no obvious military strategy in the works based on the intelligence at my disposal. He asserted that it is more of a terror strategy than a military one. It is a hub of evil, cruelty, and bloodshed.
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Ruslan Kravchenko, the chief regional prosecutor in Bucha, Ukraine, which is close to the country’s capital, told the Associated Press that he has forwarded more than 2,000 cases to that country’s security services for further investigation and that more cases continue to come in every day, most of them involving property damage.
Previously a wealthy, green village outside of Kiev, Bucha has come to symbolise the tragedy of the conflict that Russia started in February. According to Kravchenko, whose office has documented the 327 murder victims in Bucha, just three military personnel and one police officer were among them.
Before migrating to Bucha, Kravchenko worked in the Donbas, where separatists supported by Russia have been fighting the Ukrainian government since 2014. They also worked in the Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. I’ve only been able to identify one pattern: whenever Russians saw civilians, they would shoot them without reason.