On March 4, 2022, Russian armored vehicles were destroyed in Bucha, Ukraine, northwest of Kyiv. The year 2022

(Warsaw, Poland) – Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of Russian military forces violating the laws of war against civilians in occupied areas of Ukraine’s Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions. Between February 27 and March 14, 2022, there was a case of repeated rape; two cases of summary execution, one of six men and the other of one man; and other cases of unlawful violence and threats against civilians. Soldiers were also accused of stealing civilian property such as food, clothing, and firewood. Those who committed these atrocities are guilty of war crimes.

“The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” said Hugh Williamson, director of Human Rights Watch in Europe and Central Asia. “Russian forces’ rape, murder, and other violent acts against people in their custody should be investigated as war crimes.”

Human Rights Watch conducted in-person or telephone interviews with ten people, including witnesses, victims, and local residents of Russia-occupied territories. For their own safety, some people asked to be identified only by their first names or by pseudonyms.On March 4, Russian forces rounded up five men in Bucha, about 30 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, and executed one of them. According to a witness, soldiers forced the five men to kneel on the side of the road, pulled their T-shirts over their heads, and shot one of the men in the back of the head. “He fell [over], and the women [at the scene] screamed,” the witness said.

On March 10, 2022, people walk through devastation as they evacuate a frontline area between the cities of Bucha and Irpin near Kyiv, Ukraine.

According to the mother of one of the men, who was nearby when her son and another man were apprehended and saw the dead bodies of all six, Russian forces rounded up at least six men in the village of Staryi Bykiv, in Chernihiv region, on February 27, and later executed them.

According to a 60-year-old man, on March 4, a Russian soldier threatened to execute him and his son in Zabuchchya, a village northwest of Kyiv, after searching their home and discovering a hunting rifle and gasoline in the backyard. According to the man, another soldier intervened to prevent the other soldier from killing them. In a separate interview, his daughter confirmed his story.

On March 6, Russian soldiers threw a smoke grenade into a basement in Vorzel, about 50 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, then shot a woman and a 14-year-old child as they emerged from the basement, where they had been sheltering. A man who was with her in the same basement when she died two days later from her wounds and heard other people’s accounts of the incident provided the information to Human Rights Watch. He claimed that the child died instantly.

On March 13, a woman told Human Rights Watch that a Russian soldier raped her repeatedly in a school in the Kharkiv region where she and her family were seeking refuge. He allegedly beat her and used a knife to cut her face, neck, and hair. The woman fled to Kharkiv the next day, where she was able to receive medical treatment and other services. Human Rights Watch examined two photographs of the woman’s facial injuries that she shared with the organization.

Many of the Ukrainian civilians we spoke with described Russian forces stealing food, firewood, clothing, and other items like chainsaws, axes, and gasoline.

All parties to the armed conflict in Ukraine are required to follow international humanitarian law, also known as war law, which includes the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, and customary international law. The international law of occupation applies to belligerent armed forces that have effective control of a territory. International human rights law, which is always applicable, also applies.

Willful killing, rape and other sexual violence, torture, and inhumane treatment of captured combatants and civilians in custody are all prohibited under international law. Plundering and looting are also forbidden. Anyone who orders or intentionally commits such acts, or who aids and abets them, is guilty of war crimes.

As a matter of command responsibility, commanders of forces who knew or had reason to know about such crimes but did not attempt to stop them or punish those responsible are criminally liable for war crimes.

“Russia has an international legal obligation to investigate alleged war crimes committed by its soldiers impartially,” Williamson said. “Commanders should understand that their failure to act against murder and rape may hold them personally liable for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility.”

For more detail, please see below.

 

Kharkiv Rape

On March 13, a Russian soldier raped and beaten Olha [not her real name], a 31-year-old woman in Malaya Rohan, a village in the Kharkiv region controlled by Russian forces at the time.

According to Olha, Russian soldiers entered the village on February 25. On that day, about 40 villagers, mostly women and girls, sought refuge in the basement of a nearby school. Her 5-year-old daughter, mother, 13-year-old sister, and 24-year-old brother were all present.

According to Olha, a Russian soldier forcibly entered the school around midnight on March 13: “He broke glass windows at the entrance to the school and banged on the door.” The door was opened by a guard.

The soldier, who was armed with an assault rifle and a pistol, entered the basement and ordered everyone to form a line. The woman stood in line, holding her sleeping daughter. He asked her to hand over the girl, but she refused. He summoned her brother and ordered the rest of the group to kneel or he would shoot everyone in the basement.

The soldier directed her brother to accompany him in order to assist him in his search for food. They left and returned an hour or so later. The soldier took a seat on the floor.

“People started asking if they could use the restroom, and he let them in groups of two and three,” Olha explained. Following that, people began to settle in for the night. The soldier approached her family and asked her to accompany him.

The soldier led her to a second-floor classroom, where he pointed a gun at her and told her to undress. “He told me to give him [oral sex],” she explained. He kept the gun near my temple or in my face the entire time. He shot at the ceiling twice, saying it was to give me more’motivation.'” He raped her before telling her to sit on a chair.

She complained that she was getting cold in the unheated school and asked if she could get dressed, but the soldier told her that she could only put on her top and not her pants or underwear. “As I was putting on my clothes, the soldier told me he was Russian, his name was [name withheld], and he was 20 years old.” He said I reminded him of a girl he used to go to school with.”

The soldier instructed her to go to the basement and retrieve her belongings so that she could remain in the classroom with him. She flatly refused. “I knew if my daughter saw me, she’d cry,” she explained. The soldier took out a knife and told her she had to do exactly what he said if she wanted to see her child again.

The soldier raped her again, this time holding a knife to her throat and severing the skin on her neck. He also used the knife to shave her cheek and cut some of her hair. He slapped her repeatedly and hit her in the face with a book. Cut marks and bruising on her neck and face are visible in photographs she shared with Human Rights Watch on March 19 and 20.

On March 14, around 7 a.m., the soldier told her to go find him a pack of cigarettes. They went downstairs as a group. She requested that the guard give the soldier some cigarettes. After obtaining the cigarettes, the soldier exited.

She and her family walked to Kharkiv that day, where volunteers provided her with basic medical care. They took refuge in a bomb shelter. “I am fortunate to be alive,” she said. She stated that the Malaya Rohan council authorities had contacted her and her mother and that they were preparing a criminal complaint to be filed with Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office.Human Rights Watch received three additional allegations of sexual violence by Russian soldiers in other villages in the Chernihiv region and in Mariupol, Ukraine, but was unable to independently verify them.

 

Summary Killings, Other Violence

On February 27, Russian forces apprehended and executed six men in the Chernihiv region village of Staryi Bykiv. Tetiana, who lives in Novyi Bykiv, which borders Staryi Bykiv just across the Supiy River, spoke with the relatives of four of the men killed. According to her, on February 27, the bridge connecting Novyi Bykiv and Staryi Bykiv was blown up, and Russian forces shelled both villages. After that, a column of Russian armored vehicles entered Staryi Bykiv.

“Because of the shelling, most people were hiding in their basements, and soldiers went door to door,” Tetiana said the families of Staryi Bykiv told her. Six men were taken from their homes by the soldiers:

  • Six men from three different families were taken. One mother had both of her sons kidnapped [and then shot]. Another young man, Bohdan, was in his early twenties. I know his mother well, and she told me that the soldiers told her to wait near her house while they took her son… to question him. They told other families the same thing. Instead, they led these six men away, drove them to the outskirts of town, and shot them.

Viktoria, Bohdan’s mother, told Human Rights Watch in a separate interview that on February 27:

  • They kidnapped my 29-year-old son, Bohdan, and my 39-year-old brother-in-law, Sasha Olexander. We couldn’t see because we were in the basement [due to the shelling]. They went outside to have a cigarette. Then our next-door neighbor came up and said he saw them take Bohdan and Sasha, as well as a few other guys.
  • Viktoria dashed down the street to inquire of the Russian soldiers stationed at the checkpoint what had occurred. “They told us not to worry because [soldiers] would scare them a little and then let them go,” she explained. “We walked about 50 meters away… and heard gunshots.” It was approximately 6:20 p.m.”

Viktoria stated that the next day, she and her sister went to the meadow and discovered the bodies near a building:

  • My son and brother-in-law were not among those on one side of the building. We went around to the other side and saw [Bohdan and Sasha, as well as another]. They were strewn about. They had been shot in the head. They had their hands tied behind their backs. I examined my son’s body; his pockets were empty, and he lacked his phone, keys, and [identity] documents.
  • Viktoria requested permission to collect the bodies from soldiers at the checkpoint, but they refused. The heavy shelling continued for the next few days.
  • On March 7, Viktoria stated that they again requested permission from the soldiers to collect the bodies: “At the checkpoint, they told us to go to the cemetery, that they’d bring us the bodies…. Everyone [all the neighbors] showed up, about 75 people…. We buried them all in separate graves on the same day.”
  • The other four men buried that day, according to Viktoria, were Volodymyr, 40, another Olexander, 40, and two brothers, Ihor, 31, and Oleh, 33.
  • Tetiana claimed that the soldiers also took all of the villagers’ wood, leaving them with nothing to cook or heat their homes with.
  • According to a teacher who witnessed the killing, on March 4, Russian forces summarily executed a man in Bucha, 30 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, and threatened to execute four others. She reported hearing gunshots around 7 a.m. and seeing three Russian armored vehicles and four Kamaz [Russian brand] trucks drive down her street. She was hiding out in the cellar with her two dogs when she heard glass breaking and her front door being smashed. “Come outside right now or we’ll throw a grenade,” said voices outside. She yelled that she was alone in the cellar and emerged with her hands raised.

“Two [Russian] soldiers and a commander were outside,” she explained. “They took my phone and looked it over before telling me to get my [identification] documents and accompany them.” She noticed as she followed the soldiers down the street that they were also rounding up her neighbors and ordering them to walk. She stated, “

  • They took us to the former AgroButpostach [rental storage company] office. There is a parking lot and a small square right next to the building. They gathered people in that square, mostly women, but there were a few men over 50 [years old] among us. There was about 30 military personnel present, and the commander wore [paratrooper] insignia on his fatigues. He spoke with a western or central-western Russian accent… I was born in Russia, so I am aware of such things. The soldiers were all thin and looked worn out.

She claimed that the soldiers brought about 40 people to the square, confiscated everyone’s phones, checked documents, and inquired as to who was in territorial defense or local self-defense units:

  • Two women asked to use the restroom. One of them was expecting a child. I asked to accompany them. A soldier directed us to the restroom, which was located around the building, which I believe was now their headquarters. The structure was quite long. On the other side of the wall, there was a large pool of blood.

She claimed they waited in the square for hours in the bitter cold:

  • They initially brought in one young man, then four more. The soldiers told them to remove their boots and jackets. They forced them to kneel by the roadside. Russian soldiers drew their T-shirts behind and over their heads. They fired a shot to the back of the head. He stumbled. The women screamed. The other four men were merely kneeling. “Don’t be concerned,” the commander assured the rest of the people in the square. You’re all normal people, and this is dirt. We’ve come to cleanse you of dirt.”
  • She stated that after several hours, the soldiers returned the people to their homes. When she left, the other four men remained kneeling. When she was able to leave town on March 9, she said the young man’s body was still lying where he had been shot.
  • Dmytro, 40, told Human Rights Watch that he and his family fled Bucha, which had been heavily shelled, on March 7. He stated that they did not know of any safe evacuation routes, so they walked for about five kilometers to the village of Vorzel, wrapped in white sheets and waving white sheets in the air.
  • When they arrived in Vorzel, they sought refuge in the basement of a two-story building with a group of local residents for two nights. Dmytro stated that there was a woman in the basement with them who had chest and leg wounds.
  • Other people in the basement told him she was shot the day before when Russian soldiers stormed the basement and threw a smoke grenade inside. Several people fled outside, where Russian soldiers opened fire on them. The woman was hurt, and people in the basement told him that a 14-year-old boy had been shot in the head and killed. According to Dmytro, the woman died the next day, on March 8. He and a group of locals buried her outside the bomb shelter.

On March 4, Russian forces threatened to execute a man and his son in Zabuchchya, a village northwest of Kyiv outside the city of Irpin. On March 4, Russian forces entered the village, where he was sheltering with ten other people, including an Irpin family, in the basement of his home, according to a village resident. His daughter corroborated his story in a separate interview. He claimed that 13 soldiers searched his home:

  • The soldiers inquired about my son, 34, who serves in territorial defense. He walked out to greet them. They inquired as to who was in the house, then searched it and turned it upside down…. They went ballistic after discovering my hunting rifle and a bottle of gasoline in the backyard.
  • “Take them [my son and me] to the tree outside and shoot them,” said the commander who gave orders to others. They escorted us outside. One of the soldiers voiced his displeasure. They took us back inside and told my son to strip naked because they were looking for nationalist tattoos. Other soldiers went to homes on our street, including a judge’s – she had gone and locked the door – and a local council deputy’s.
  • To gain entry, they smashed a window in the judge’s house. We saw them taking bags and bags of belongings from the judge’s home. They then exited…. I took my family and everyone in the basement with me, and we fled in two cars. My wife, son, and mother, all of whom are in their eighties, are now staying at my daughter’s house in Khodosivka [southwest of Kyiv]. 

Viktoria stated that the next day, she and her sister went to the meadow and discovered the bodies near a building:

  • My son and brother-in-law were not among those on one side of the building. We went around to the other side and saw [Bohdan and Sasha, as well as another]. They were strewn about. They had been shot in the head. They had their hands tied behind their backs. I examined my son’s body; his pockets were empty, and he lacked his phone, keys, and [identity] documents.
  • Viktoria requested permission to collect the bodies from soldiers at the checkpoint, but they refused. The heavy shelling continued for the next few days. According to Viktoria, on March 7, they asked the soldiers for permission to collect the bodies once more: “At the checkpoint, they told us to go to the cemetery, that they’d bring the bodies to us “… Everyone [everyone from the neighborhood] showed up, about 75 people… On the same day, we buried them all in separate graves.”
  • On March 7, Viktoria stated that they again requested permission from the soldiers to collect the bodies: “At the checkpoint, they told us to go to the cemetery, that they’d bring us the bodies…. Everyone [all the neighbors] showed up, about 75 people… We buried them all in separate graves on the same day.”
  • The other four men buried that day, according to Viktoria, were Volodymyr, 40, another Olexander, 40, and two brothers, Ihor, 31, and Oleh, 33.
  • Tetiana claimed that the soldiers also took all of the villagers’ wood, leaving them with nothing to cook or heat their homes with.

According to a teacher who witnessed the killing, on March 4, Russian forces summarily executed a man in Bucha, 30 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, and threatened to execute four others. She reported hearing gunshots around 7 a.m. and seeing three Russian armored vehicles and four Kamaz [Russian brand] trucks drive down her street.

She was hiding out in the cellar with her two dogs when she heard glass breaking and her front door being smashed. “Come outside right now or we’ll throw a grenade,” said voices outside.

She yelled that she was alone in the cellar and emerged with her hands raised.

When they arrived in Vorzel, they sought refuge in the basement of a two-story building with a group of local residents for two nights. Dmytro stated that there was a woman in the basement with them who had chest and leg wounds.

Other people in the basement told him she was shot the day before when Russian soldiers stormed the basement and threw a smoke grenade inside. Several people fled outside, where Russian soldiers opened fire on them.

The woman was hurt, and people in the basement told him that a 14-year-old boy had been shot in the head and killed. According to Dmytro, the woman died the next day, on March 8. He and a group of locals buried her outside the bomb shelter.

On March 4, Russian forces threatened to execute a man and his son in Zabuchchya, a village northwest of Kyiv outside the city of Irpin. On March 4, Russian forces entered the village, where he was sheltering with ten other people, including an Irpin family, in the basement of his home, according to a village resident. His daughter corroborated his story in a separate interview. He claimed that 13 soldiers searched his home:

The soldiers inquired about my son, 34, who serves in territorial defense. He walked out to greet them. They inquired as to who was in the house, then searched it and turned it upside down…. They went ballistic after discovering my hunting rifle and a bottle of gasoline in the backyard.

Take them [my son and me] to the tree outside and shoot them,” said the commander who gave orders to others. They escorted us outside. One of the soldiers voiced his displeasure. They took us back inside and told my son to strip naked because they were looking for nationalist tattoos. Other soldiers went to homes on our street, including a judge’s – she had gone and locked the door – and a local council deputy’s.

To gain entry, they smashed a window in the judge’s house. We saw them taking bags and bags of belongings from the judge’s home. They then exited…. I took my family and everyone in the basement with me, and we fled in two cars. My wife, son, and mother, all of whom are in their eighties, are now staying at my daughter’s house in Khodosivka [southwest of Kyiv]. To gain entry, they smashed a window in the judge’s house.

We saw them taking bags and bags of stuff out of the judge’s house. They then left…. I took my family and everyone else who was in the basement and fled in two cars. My wife, son, and 80-year-old mother are now staying at my daughter’s house in Khodosivka [southwest of Kyiv].

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