The Book of Executioners

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Ukrainian prosecutors claim that Russian forces have committed more than 15,000 war crimes while waging Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war to push back against Western influence and reconstitute the Russian-Soviet empire, Sky News reported recently. That’s a rate of as many as 300 per day in fighting that started in late February.

The alleged crimes include torture, civilian deaths, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the forced kidnapping – and deportation – of Ukrainians, including children.

Ukrainians are obviously biased in assessing Russia’s misdeeds, and also face their own accusations of war crimes against Russian soldiers, noted France’s Le Monde newspaper. But Amnesty International has also said that Russia has committed war crimes. In the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, for example, the human rights group accused Russian forces of using banned cluster bombs on civilians, the organization detailed in a report.

“The repeated use of widely banned cluster munitions is shocking, and a further indication of utter disregard for civilian lives,” Amnesty International Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera told Al Jazeera. “The Russian forces responsible for these horrific attacks must be held accountable for their actions, and victims and their families must receive full reparations.”

Among the worst episodes involved the horrors of Bucha, a suburb of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv that Russian forces once occupied. Investigators had already discovered more than 1,300 civilians buried in mass graves in the town. Recently, the Associated Press wrote, investigators also found civilian corpses with gunshots to the knees and hands taped behind their backs, signifying they had been questioned and tortured.

Ukraine is creating a “Book of Executioners” where officials gather evidence of these crimes, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation added. The book will list the names of hundreds of alleged perpetrators for prosecutors and historians.

The legal process is already moving forward. Russian tank commander Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin recently pled guilty to killing 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov in the village of Chupakhivka on Feb. 28, the BBC reported. A Ukrainian court has sentenced Shishimarin to life in prison.

What’s truly remarkable about that is timing: Most prosecutions for war crimes take place years after the start of a conflict, such as in Sierra Leone or Bosnia and Herzegovina, to name a few.

Meanwhile, gathering evidence for such prosecutions is no easy task, either. As National Public Radio explained, investigators are listening to the horrifying tales of survivors, picking over dead bodies, rubble and the charred remains of people’s lives. They said Russian soldiers appeared to have become more sadistic when they realized they were losing their campaign to seize Kyiv.

Of course, efforts to bring Russian war criminals to justice will only begin to address the trauma that Ukrainians will experience for the rest of their lives. But it’s a start.

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