Sunday, April 2

Investigators gather evidence of possible Russian war crimes in Ukraine

Six days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, tests increase that its military is committing war crimes with deadly attacks on civilians and the use of cluster munitions.

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Eliot Higgins, founder of the investigative journalism website bellingcatsays there is evidence that Russia was causing “civilian harm”, including through the use of “cluster bombs in civilian areas”, from reliable videos and photographs of the conflict.

The images of a attack on a car park in Kharkov on Monday, described by a Bellingcat researcher as a cluster bomb attack, show residents walking in a nearby park just as the sequence of bombs goes off. The area appears to be residential.

security camera footage, which according to the Russian Conflict Intelligence Team were recorded in Kharkov, show a cluster bomb landing on a highway last Friday. The driver makes a hasty turn as explosions rain down around the car. Given the lack of aircraft noise, the bomb was likely fired by a Russian Grad rocket system, the researchers conclude.

Cluster munitions, which scatter small bombs indiscriminately over a wide area, are banned by more than 100 states, including the UK, France and Germany, due to their lack of accuracy. However, neither Russia nor Ukraine (nor the United States) have signed the treaty, first created in 2008, that prohibits them.


More evidence of the use of cluster munitions has emerged, such as the remains of a rocket motor from a Russian BMP-30 cluster munition found on Friday on a Kharkov roadand a video of a similar pump part landing in Buchanorthwest of Kiev.

Several NGOs have focused on the attack on a kindergarten in Okhtyrka, some 100 kilometers west of Kharkiv, on Friday, the second day of all-out fighting. Drone footage taken after the attack shows multiple blackened blast sites and people dead or seriously injured near the entrance.

Three civilians were killed, including a child, according to Amnesty International. “There is no possible justification for dropping cluster munitions in populated areas, let alone near a school,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

According to the UNIntentionally targeting civilians or civilian buildings is considered a war crime under international humanitarian law, as are attacks on military objectives that cause excessive civilian casualties. Russia consistently denies carrying out illegal attacks.

“If you doubt whether a target is military or not, you have to assume that it is civilian. Therefore, an indiscriminate attack is illegal,” says Roos Boer, head of the Pax peace project in the Netherlands.

The videos serving as evidence suggest that the Russian missile attacks on the eastern city of Kharkov were launched without regard to the impact on civilians. On Tuesday, a missile attackpossibly a Kalibr cruise missile– against the regional government building in the center of Kharkov was recorded at the time of production.

At least 10 civilians were killed in the morning attack in the heart of the industrial city of more than a million inhabitants. Hours later, Russia said it was going to carry out what it called “high-precision” strikes on official buildings in Kiev.

On Monday, some videos they showed serial explosions of multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) on other Kharkov buildings. One of them showed the characteristic Diamond City tower, 13 stories, clearly visible in the foreground. They saw each other bomb fragments on the roads of Kharkiv, rocket parts in apartments and dead civilians in the streets.

Investigate from day one

But despite concerns raised by Western intelligence services, no clear evidence has yet emerged that Russian forces used destructive thermobaric weapons (although Ukraine has claimed to have captured one TOS-1A flamethrower) or cluster incendiary bombs of the type that their forces were accused of using in Syria during the siege of Aleppo.

On Monday night, one Western official said there was an “obligation to record and capture” attacks on civilians, while another said: “I think we will be very vigilant and alert to war crimes or violations of international humanitarian law. in this conflict.”

But while governments talk about acting, researchers are already doing their part. Higgins says that, unlike other recent conflicts – such as the war in Syria – “an open-source intelligence community” that collects and studies video and photo evidence has emerged “from day one.”

Aided by the willingness of Ukrainians and others to document the conflict on their phones, independent researchers like Bellingcat have been able to quickly geolocate and document evidence that could be useful in the future.

Bellingcat has also established a partnership with Mnemonic, an NGO dedicated to archiving evidence collected on social media and mobile phones, whose goal is to secure material down to the level of evidence. “The day may come when all this ends up in the International Criminal Court,” says Higgins.

Translation by Lara Lema