Tuesday, August 16, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ukraine war brutality deepens as chemical tank explodes, more war crime evidence emerges

Ukraine says there is evidence that Russians have killed hundreds of civilians near Kyiv. Russia points to videos of Russian prisoners of war being shot in the legs and other harrowing imagery.

(CN) — The war in Ukraine descended into greater barbarity Tuesday as reports came in of an explosion at a chemical plant in the eastern Donbas region and more evidence of Russian war crimes emerged while the Kremlin accused Ukraine of the same.

On Tuesday, Russia was condemned at a United Nations Security Council meeting examining allegations of civilian massacres in towns and villages outside Kyiv. With Russia holding veto power on the Security Council, it was unlikely any action would be taken against Moscow.

Ukraine has accused Russia of committing genocide, alleging the Kremlin seeks to destroy Ukraine and its people. Atrocities committed in the small city of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, have shocked the world. Russia denies its troops were responsible for civilian deaths and accuses Ukraine of a massive act of deception to blame Russia.

In a televised speech to the Security Council, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy argued that international peace cannot be safeguarded as long as Russia has the power to veto Security Council actions.

“We are dealing with a state that is turning the veto of the U.N. Security Council into the right of death,” he said. “This undermines the whole architecture of global security, it allows Russia to go unpunished.”

Zelenskyy said Russia’s military leaders must be put on trial for war crimes and he likened Russian troops to ISIS terrorists.

“It is difficult to find a war crime that the occupiers have not committed” in Bucha and other areas around Kyiv now under Ukrainian control, Zelenskyy said.

He alleged Russian soldiers killed entire families, raped women in front of their children, burned bodies, mutilated victims, executed supposed sympathizers of the Ukrainian army by shooting them in the back of the head, threw victims in wells and crushed civilians in their cars “just for their own pleasure.”

He said Russia wants to colonize Ukraine. “They need our wealth, our people,” he said. “Russia wants to turn Ukraine into silent slaves.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. representative on the Security Council, said there were “chilling” accounts of thousands of Ukrainians being forced into camps in Russia against their will.

“Reports indicate that Russian Federal Security agents are confiscating passports and IDs, taking away cellphones and separating families from one another,” she said. “I do not need to spell out what these so-called filtration camps are reminiscent of. It's chilling and we cannot look away.”

She said the U.S. will seek to kick Russia off the U.N. Human Rights Council because of its abuses.

Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian representative on the council, attacked Zelenskyy for not living up to his promises when he was elected in 2019 to end the years-long war in eastern Ukraine.

He rejected allegations about Russia abducting thousands of Ukrainians and claimed there are hundreds of video testimonials of refugees attesting to war crimes committed by Ukrainian soldiers, in particular by members attached to battalions with links to neo-Nazi ideology.

Russia, he said, invaded to bring “lasting peace” to “blood-soaked” Donbas where he said ethnic Russians had been under bombardment for eight years. Over those eight years, about 14,000 civilians were killed in the Donbas war and up to 2 million people fled their homes.

He blamed the U.S. and its allies of stoking the war in Ukraine as part of a strategy to undermine Russia.

“These countries don't give a hoot about Ukraine itself. It's simply a pawn in the geopolitical game against Russia,” Nebenzya said. “They will try to prolong the conflict by delivering as many weapons and ammunition as possible …. The West is ready to fight in Ukraine until the last Ukrainian.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Following the new allegations of war crimes, Russia is facing a fresh round of sanctions, though the European Union is backing away from imposing an embargo on Russian oil and natural gas. Its leaders said, however, that an embargo on coal and a ban on Russia-flagged ships at EU ports are on the table.

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, said at the Security Council meeting that the war must come an end because it is threatening world stability.

“The war in Ukraine is one of the greatest challenges ever to the international order and the global peace architecture founded on the United Nations charter,” Guterres said

He called Russia’s invasion an illegal act in violation of international law that has “led to senseless loss of life, massive devastation in urban centers, and destruction of civilian infrastructure.”

“I will never forget the horrifying images of civilians killed in Bucha and I immediately call for an independent investigation to guarantee effective accountability,” Guterres said.

He added that he was horrified by emerging reports of widespread rape and sexual violence.

Rosemary DiCarlo, a U.N. under-secretary-general for political affairs, said there are reports of alleged summary executions, rape and looting in other parts of Ukraine, including Kharkiv and Chernihiv. She said investigations are underway to examine allegations of war crimes committed by both sides.

She added that investigators are examining “credible reports” of the use of cluster bombs by Russia in civilian areas. She said Ukrainian forces have also been accused of using cluster munition. Firing cluster bombs is considered a war crime because they do not distinguish between civilians and combatants and can leave behind unexploded ordnance which can harm civilians, according to the Arms Control Association.

So far, the U.N. has recorded 1,480 civilian deaths and 2,195 wounded civilians in the war, though its experts believe this is an undercount. Seven journalists and media workers have been killed, DiCarlo said.

The World Health Organization reports that 85 health care facilities have been attacked, resulting in 72 deaths and 43 injuries.

DiCarlo condemned Russia for arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances. She said 22 journalists and members of civil society and 24 local officials have been abducted. Thirteen abducted local officials have been released, she said.

She said the war, if it continues through the end of the year, risks erasing 18 years of Ukrainian socioeconomic gains and would hurt the country for decades.

Guterres said about 10 million Ukrainians were displaced in the first month of war, “the fastest forced movement of people since World War II.” About 4.2 million Ukrainians have fled their country for neighboring nations, a majority in Poland. Many are in Russia too.

With Ukraine and Russia being big suppliers of basic necessities such as grains, fertilizer and energy, Guterres warned that global price spikes are leading to dangerous instability around the globe. There are concerns that tens of millions of people are at risk of famine and that political instability could erupt in countries already suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is more urgent by the day to silence the guns,” he said.

Ukrainian officials accuse Russian troops of killing hundreds of civilians in Bucha and other towns around Kyiv. The Kremlin denies the allegations and says Ukraine is falsely accusing Russian troops for crimes committed by Ukrainians.

The evidence, though, points to Russian war crimes, according to a preliminary examination of evidence by the U.N. human rights agency.

Russia, meanwhile, is bringing forth allegations of Ukrainian war crimes against Russian prisoners of war. Videos have surfaced allegedly showing Russian prisoners getting shot in the legs and, in a new video, bodies of Russian soldiers seem to lie in a road with their throats cut. At least one dead soldier in the new video is shown with his hands tied behind his back.

Both sides also blamed each other for an attack on a tank of nitric acid at a chemical facility in the eastern city of Rubizhne. A toxic cloud covered the area. The city is at the center of intense fighting over control of Donbas, an eastern region of Ukraine that has been the front line of a war between Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

In southeastern Ukraine, the port city of Mariupol appeared to be nearly completely in the hands of Russian forces after weeks of horrendous bombing and street fighting. Russian sources showed videos of nearly 300 Ukrainian marines surrendering. Still, the fighting continued, with hardcore Ukrainian soldiers in the Azov Battalion holding out.

More than 100,000 civilians are believed to still be trapped in Mariupol; Ukrainian officials have spoken about thousands of dead in the city. Mariupol has been the site of missile strikes on a maternity hospital and a drama theater. Hundreds of dead are feared to still be under the rubble of the theater.

Russia’s army appears to be preparing for an all-out assault on eastern Ukraine, where some 60,000 or more Ukrainian troops are battling Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian forces. The Kremlin has declared that it wants to wrest control of Donbas from Kyiv.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...