Evidence of Russian war crimes mounts along with global outrage

As gruesome images of bodies on the streets of Bucha spread around the world over the weekend, Human Rights Watch released a new report detailing various war crimes committed by Russia in the first weeks of its invasion of Ukraine.

The Human Right Watch’s report, published on Sunday, added specifics to a global debate over how to respond to Russian atrocities against civilians, with the U.S. determining that Russia has committed war crimes and Kyiv accusing Moscow of genocide.

The non-governmental organization detailed instances of war crimes that occurred between Feb. 27 and March 14, including cases of repeated rape, summary execution, unlawful violence and threats against citizens. The group spoke with 10 individuals, including witnesses, victims and local residents living in Ukrainian territories that have been seized by Russia.

One witness told Human Rights Watch that Russian forces in Bucha forced five men to kneel on the side of the road before shooting one of them in the back of the head. In another case, a woman said a Russian soldier raped her a number of times in a school in Kharkiv, where she and her family were seeking shelter. She claimed that the man cut her face, neck and hair with a knife.

Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the incidents “amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians.”

The report comes after the Biden administration last month determined that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine, without offering specific details. The president and top U.S. officials have also labeled Putin a war criminal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once again accused Russia of genocide on Sunday, when asked about the images coming out of Bucha.

“Indeed, this is genocide. The elimination of the whole nation and the people. We are the citizens of Ukraine. We have more than 100 nationalities. This is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities,” Zelensky told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“We are the citizens of Ukraine and we don’t want to be subdued to the policy of Russian Federation. This is the reason we are being destroyed and exterminated, and this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century. So this is the torture of the whole nation,” he added.

Russia’s attacks on civilians received renewed attention on Sunday as images surfaced of bodies on a street in Bucha, a town northwest of Kyiv. One person photographed had a white cloth tying their hands behind their back.

The Russian defense ministry has dismissed the photographs as “fakes staged by the Kiev regime for the Western media,” according to Tass news agency, but top U.S. and NATO officials are speaking out about the disturbing images.

Blinken on Sunday told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the photos coming out of Bucha are “a punch to the gut,” and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the images “horrific.”

“It’s absolutely unacceptable that civilians are targeted and killed. And it just underlines the importance of that this war must end. And that is President Putin’s responsibility, to stop the war,” the NATO chief added.

An International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor launched an investigation into potential war crimes in Ukraine early last month. The probe will include claims of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide committed in any area of Ukraine by any individuals.

Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of the ICC investigation on Sunday, saying it is “extremely important” that the court began the investigation and that “all facts are brought on the table, to the table, and that those responsible are held accountable.”

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine progresses through its fifth week, it appears that Moscow may be shifting strategies after its efforts stalled in a number of areas due to staunch Ukrainian opposition. Russia has pulled troops from cities and towns near Kyiv, and many are now saying that the country will reposition its efforts in eastern Ukraine.

Blinken, however, said Russia has already experienced a “strategic defeat” in its offensive in Ukraine.

The secretary of state said Moscow has failed to achieve the three main goals it had at the start of the invasion: subjugating Ukraine to Russia’s will, asserting Russian power and dividing the west and NATO.

“On all three fronts, its already lost,” Blinken said.

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