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Bucha massacre

Bodies lie on a street in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022. Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of war crimes in the village. (Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian Officials Must Be Held to Account for Documented War Crimes: Amnesty

"It is vital that all those responsible, including up the chain of command, are brought to justice," said the group.

Julia Conley

Global human rights group Amnesty International on Friday called for accountability "up the chain of command" in Russia for war crimes the organization says it has documented in extensive interviews and on-the-ground research in Ukraine.

"Hierarchal superiors... who knew or had reason to know about war crimes committed by their forces, but did not attempt to stop them or punish those responsible, should also be held criminally responsible."

The group's new report, titled "He's Not Coming Back": War Crimes in Northwest Areas of Kyiv Oblast, was released Friday and based on dozens of interviews with survivors of Russian attacks in several towns outside the Ukrainian capital, as well as reviews of material evidence.

The research by Amnesty's delegation has taken place over the last several days and has revealed a "pattern of crimes committed by Russian forces" including "both unlawful attacks and willful killings of civilians," according to Secretary General Agnès Callamard.

"We have met families whose loved ones were killed in horrific attacks, and whose lives have changed forever because of the Russian invasion," Callamard said in a statement. "It is vital that all those responsible, including up the chain of command, are brought to justice."

The group conducted its research in towns including Bucha—where Russian forces were accused of carrying out a "deliberate massacre" of more than 100 people last month—Borodyanka, Zdvyzhivka, and Novyi Korohod.

Residents of Borodyanka described a series of air strikes on March 1 and 2, days after the Russians invaded Ukraine, which hit eight residential buildings and killed at least 40 people as well as leaving thousands homeless.

Laurie Hanna, part of Amnesty's Crisis Response team, shared a video documenting the damage done to Borodyanka:

"I left my apartment to go do some work in the garage, as my wife was about to take a couple of older neighbors down to the basement," Vasyl Yaroshenko told Amnesty. "When I reached the garage, about 150 meters from the building, there was a huge explosion. I ducked behind the garage. When I looked, I saw a large gap in the building. The whole middle section of the building had collapsed—exactly where residents were sheltering in the basement. My wife Halina was among those killed. I still see her by the door of our apartment, the home where we lived for 40 years."

The group verified the reports of the attacks with 39 people who had witnessed or had firsthand knowledge of the bombings.

"No fixed Ukrainian military targets are known to have been located at or around any of the buildings which were struck," said Amnesty. "Knowingly launching direct attacks on civilian objects or disproportionate attacks constitute war crimes."

A series of airstrikes also targeted six other buildings on Tsentralna Street in Borodyanka, according to the report. In Building 371, the victims included 39-year-old surgeon Vitali Smishchuk, his wife Tetiana, and their four-year-old daughter Yeva.

"I was speaking to my son and telling him to leave, but he was worried about going outside," Smishchuk's mother, Ludmila, told Amnesty. "They sheltered in the basement for safety—but the bomb destroyed the middle section of the building, where the basement was."

The Crisis Response team also spoke to 45 people who had direct knowledge of unlawful killings including extrajudicial executions in towns including Bucha.

Olena Sakhno of Novyi Korohod, 70 kilometers west of Kyiv, described the killing of her partner.

"His hands were tied behind his back with a piece of white plastic, and he had been shot in the head," Sakhno said.

The investigators' in-depth research included identifying bullets and cartridge cases found at the scenes of killings. In Bucha, researchers documented "black-tipped 7N12 armor-piercing 9x39mm rounds that can only be fired by specialized rifles used by some elite Russian units, including units reported to have been operating in Bucha during this time."

Some evidence reviewed by Amnesty showed signs that victims of unlawful killings by the Russians had been tortured.

The group's report follows the first war crimes charges filed by Ukrainian prosecutors last week, regarding the killings in Bucha. Authorities have accused 10 Russian soldiers of torturing civilians and taking them hostage in the town.

"No fixed Ukrainian military targets are known to have been located at or around any of the buildings which were struck. Knowingly launching direct attacks on civilian objects or disproportionate attacks constitute war crimes."

Callamard said Amnesty supports surviving family members' "demands for justice, and [calls] on the Ukrainian authorities, the International Criminal Court, and others to ensure evidence is preserved that could support future war crime prosecutions."

The report also comes a day after United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addressed the U.N. Security Council, demanding greater protection for Ukrainian civilians and renewed efforts to establish a ceasefire.

The U.N.'s Human Rights Monitoring Mission, Bachelet said, has also found evidence of "violations that may amount to war crimes" by Russian forces.

The mission has heard accounts of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war "by both parties of the conflict," the high commissioner said.

"Grim evidence of torture, ill-treatment, and summary executions of prisoners of war committed by both parties to the conflict is surfacing," Bachelet told the Security Council. "The only way for these horrors to stop is for armed forces to fully respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law."

Amnesty demanded that international authorities hold the Russians accountable for alleged war crimes and ensure that those in positions of power—not just those who carried out orders—are held "criminally responsible."

"Under the doctrine of command responsibility, hierarchal superiors—including commanders and civilian leaders, such as ministers and heads of state—who knew or had reason to know about war crimes committed by their forces, but did not attempt to stop them or punish those responsible, should also be held criminally responsible," said the organization.


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