Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said the country is in the process of documenting thousands of incidents believed to contravene its criminal code on the rules of war.
Since March 24, his office has documented 2,472 cases. On Wednesday, Venediktova described to the media how the country is handling these cases.
“Where we see that we will be successful in the Ukrainian jurisdiction, and where the perpetrator of a crime will be physically in Ukraine, we will follow a strategy,” he explained.
“If we understand that we cannot succeed in Ukraine, we will put our resources in the International Criminal Courtso that a specific person, an individual, suffers the punishment”.
The following is an account compiled by the BBC of just one of the incidents that have been recorded as a suspected war crime.
Little more than a week had passed since Russia invaded Ukraine. A group of volunteers – neighbors and friends – from the small town of Yasnohorodka, 40 km west of kyiv, had set up a checkpoint guarding the entrance to the community.
The confrontation between the Russian and Ukrainian forces was already brutally fierce. Across the country, checkpoints were springing up at the entrance to towns and villages, mostly manned by local volunteers without any military training formal.
On the afternoon of March 5, Rostyslav Dudarenko, the village priest, was at the post of Yasnohorodka. Its function was to control approaching vehicles. But like all military chaplains, he was also there to offer spiritual support to the group. He was dressed in civilian clothes.
It is not possible to establish exactly what happened, but a survivor of the attack, Yukhym (not his real name), told the BBC that he had been manning the checkpoint with Dudarenko and others when they learned that three Russian tanks had passed through the village.
He says that the group decided to hide in the woods, ready to face them if necessary.
As they approached the checkpoint, the Russian troops began to “fire in all directions”Yukhym told the BBC. “When they realized we were hiding in the grass, they ran off the road to run us over with their tanks.”
He says that the tanks had returned to the road when Dudarenko decided to leave.
“I saw Rostyslav raise the cross over his head, get up from hiding, shout something and walk towards them. He maybe he wanted to stop them. I tried to call him.”
He says that later shots were fired in the direction of the priest and, from his vantage point at the time, they seemed to be aimed squarely at Dudarenko. “And that was it. He took only a couple of steps and fell down.”
Yukhym, who was also injured in the attack, believes they would all have been killed had the Ukrainian armed forces not arrived at that time to push back the Russian forces.
The volunteer group Dudarenko, 45, had joined had no military status. One couple had some military training, with previous experience in the conflict with Russia in the Donbass in the east, according to another volunteer named Eduard (not his real name).
Some were simply hobby hunters. Most were over 50 years old, he says.
Eduard, who was at another post, arrived just as the Russian tanks were moving away and found bodies scattered on the road.
He said that among them was Dudarenko and his assistant -who was also unarmed-, two other defense volunteers and another person he did not know.
The group was armed with hunting rifles and a small number of Kalashnikovs from the Russian army that had come into their hands, and had only three bulletproof vests between them. But as a priest, Dudarenko refused to bear armshis friend and fellow priest Serhii Tsoma told the BBC.
This made him particularly vulnerable when he decided to take on tanks, but such action was in his nature, according to Yukhym.
man of principles
“Rostyslav was a kind and optimistic person. I think that’s why he went to try and stop the Russians.”
He was known in Yasnohorodka as someone who was always willing to help others, driving through town to pick up older members of the congregation before Sunday mass, says his friend Tsoma.
Dudarenko belonged to the Ukrainian Orthodox Churchwhich was finally granted independence from the Russian Orthodox Church in 2019, in a move never recognized by Russia.
Before the formal split, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine was divided into two branches, one loyal to Moscow and one loyal to kyiv.
Although Dudarenko served in a church aligned with kyiv, when former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych seized power in Ukraine in 2010, the Moscow Patriarchate began seizing the churches of the kyiv Patriarchate, including the church to which Dudarenko belonged.
So instead of betraying his principles, his friends say, left the church and held his services outdoors, even in the rain. She later built a makeshift church in her trailer, with the help of donations.
Collection of evidence
As has been the case with thousands of such incidents across the country in recent weeks, the killings were quickly recorded by police and local and national prosecutors alike, with details posted on their respective Facebook pages.
The cases, alleged violations of article 438 of Ukraine: Violation of the rules of war, have also been uploaded to a centralized website used by state institutions in Ukraine.
Venediktova told the BBC in an interview taped last week that such documentation of evidence was critical.
“In the attorney general’s office we have a special war department… all law enforcement helps us… to investigate war crimes. It is our top priority.”
“Of course, we don’t have enough researchers, so we created a common website: warcrimes.gov.ua“.
The website is used not only by the general prosecutor’s office, but also by other state institutions, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, to document all the evidence.
“It’s very important to us,” he explained. “[La evidencia] should be acceptable in our Ukrainian courts, should be acceptable at the ICC and other jurisdictions“.
As for the March 5 incident in Yasnohorodka, once the investigation into the shooting is concluded, an indictment will be issued, the Kyev Oblast district prosecutor’s office says.
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“The prosecution is doing everything possible to establish the circumstances of each and every war crime, and each and every perpetrator: from a soldier to a general, passing through the high military and political leadership of the state. assailant,” he said in a statement.
He added that, in some cases, Russian soldiers were already facing the first stage of Ukrainian trials, “so we are not just talking about prospects for sentencing in absentia. In each specific case, war criminals will be punished in accordance with Ukrainian law.”
Svyatoslav Khomenko contributed to this report.
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