Russia’s invading forces accused of atrocities in Ukraine

Russia’s invading forces accused of atrocities in Ukraine


Russian forces continue to indiscriminately kill civilians nearly three months after invading the sovereign nation of Ukraine, an unprovoked assault that has trampled on long-established international rules governing armed conflict, according to human rights groups.

More than 3,200 civilians have been killed and about 3,400 injured since the invasion began February 24, 2022, although the actual figures are believed to be much higher, according to the United Nations. Most of the victims, who include hundreds of children, were killed or wounded by “explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” the U.N. reported May 4.

In late April, Russia conducted an air strike on Kyiv while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting the Ukrainian capital, Taiwan’s Taipei Times newspaper reported. One missile struck a residential building, killing Vira Hyrych, a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. (Pictured: Workers remove rubble from a residential building in Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, after a Russian missile strike killed a journalist and injured 10 other people in late April 2022.)

The strike, which Russia claimed was targeting a missile and space production facility, drew widespread condemnation. German officials called it an inhumane attack that showed Russian President Vladimir Putin has “no respect whatsoever for international law,” the Taipei Times reported.

Russian invaders also are accused of using rape as a tactic of war and of refusing to let civilians flee battle zones, among other atrocities. In at least three incidents, Russian troops opened fire on civilian vehicles, including one whose occupants were going to negotiate humanitarian aid deliveries, according to Human Rights Watch. Six civilians were killed in those attacks.

“Russian soldiers at checkpoints opened fire on passing vehicles without any apparent effort to verify whether the occupants were civilians,” Belkis Wille, a senior crisis and conflict researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in a May 2 article on the New York-based nonprofit organization’s website.

Such actions violate international humanitarian law (IHL), which encompasses the Geneva Conventions originally established in 1864 and to which Russia is a signatory. Often referred to as the rules of war or the law of armed conflict, those principles extend protections to civilians and other noncombatants. “Foremost is the rule that parties to a conflict must distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians,” according to Human Rights Watch. “Civilians may never be the deliberate target of attacks.”

Also, IHL prohibits “indiscriminate attacks, namely those that strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. IHL outlaws “attacks that may be expected to cause excessive incidental civilian harm in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

Russia’s invasion and occupation of portions of eastern Ukraine have led to Moscow’s growing isolation, leaving Putin with few supporters amid a torrent of stiff sanctions and other punitive measures by the global community. World leaders including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and United States President Joe Biden say Russia is committing genocide by trying to wipe out the Ukrainian people, and the International Criminal Court is investigating possible Russian war crimes, including by Putin.

Conversely, as its outnumbered forces continue to repel Russian attacks, Ukraine has received a wave of support, including weapons, money and humanitarian aid, from like-minded nations, including in the Indo-Pacific, where the specter of conflict looms given the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) expansionist and authoritarian behavior.

The PRC refuses to condemn Russia’s invasion and has not joined in sanctioning Putin’s regime. It also voted against a U.N. resolution to remove Russia from the organization’s Human Rights Council over allegations of torture and killings by Russian forces in Ukraine. The measure, introduced by the U.S., passed with overwhelming support.

“Russia should not have a position of authority in a body whose purpose — whose very purpose — is to promote respect for human rights,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said before the April 7 vote. “Not only is it the height of hypocrisy; it is dangerous. Every day, we see more and more how little Russia respects human rights.”