The Ukrainian prosecutor general has opened roughly 9,600 cases into alleged war crimes committed by Russian forces against Ukrainians since the invasion of Ukraine at the end of February.
Iryna Venediktova, who is leading the office, provided the new tally and said she expects it to continue to grow during her testimony on Wednesday in front of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a commission on Capitol Hill that monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords.
“Today, to date, we have opened over 9,600 investigations. Tomorrow, it will be up again, up and up, into instances of violations of law and customs of law. This number for sure will get higher,” she said, adding that there also is “a separate investigation into the crime of genocide.”
She placed the death toll for civilians at around 1,400 and said roughly 200 of them were children and Russian forces had targeted 1,500 educational institutions and 300 medical facilities. Investigators also found “a torture chamber with bodies piled on the ground,” and her office is “receiving mounting evidence of sexual abuse recorded against minors," Venediktova added.
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Venediktova accused 10 Russian soldiers by name last week of committing human rights abuses in Ukraine. At the time of the announcement, she said a “short investigation” concluded that these soldiers “captured unarmed civilians hostage, killed them with hunger and thirst, held them on their knees with tied hands and closed eyes, mocked and beaten."
She also told the commission that her office had just uncovered the identity of a soldier whom she accused of killing four unarmed men and torturing civilians. The prosecutor general qualified the update as "a drop in the ocean of cases we have."
At one point during the hearing, Venediktova spoke about specific attacks on civilian families. She said she could "tell you about similar stories happening in every town and city that found themselves in the epicenter of armed hostilities," adding, "However, we saw the real extent of atrocities after Russian forces withdrew [from] the Kyiv region."
She also pointed out that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's report from mid-April, which found that the Russian military has engaged in "patterns" of behavior that amount to violations of international law, "did not include the atrocities discovered in the Kyiv region towns."
The report alleged that Russian forces had deported approximately 500,000 civilians from Ukraine to Russia, where they then are brought to “filtration camps in Russia near the Ukrainian border.” Russian forces raped and sometimes gang-raped civilian women, used the Red Cross emblem as a disguise for their "military non-medical vehicles," and attacked more than 50 healthcare facilities within the country.
There is a multitude of investigations into alleged war crimes from Venediktova's office, a joint effort between the office and Lithuanian and Polish authorities, which the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan agreed to join, and the ICC as well.
Despite the investigations, Beth Van Schaack, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, who also testified at the hearing, told lawmakers that it'll be "difficult" to hold top Russian officials responsible for crimes committed in the war.
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"If they don't leave Russia, they enjoy impunity for the end of their days. And so you know, that's the reality of the situation. There is no international police force who can go and cross sovereign territory and arrest them," she explained. "However, you know, those of us in this business are playing a long game, and there will be jurisdiction over these individuals virtually anywhere they would go because so many states have incorporated within their domestic penal codes the ability to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or the place of commission."
Also on Wednesday, Venediktova met virtually with Attorney General Merrick Garland and the attorneys general from the other Five Eyes countries: the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
The group “affirmed their solidarity with the Ukrainian people, and discussed their coordinated efforts to hold accountable individuals whose criminal actions are enabling war crimes in Ukraine.” They also received an update from Venediktova, according to a Justice Department readout.