The brutality of the Russian invasion has shocked the world from the first days of the invasion, with the aggressors showing blatant disregard for the life of the civilian population. New examples of atrocities come to light every day. But at least one war criminal was already brought to face justice in court.
A shocking video has been released by CNN, in which Russian soldiers can be seen shooting two unarmed civilians. After what the world had seen in Bucha, this probably does not shock anyone as much as it did, but the CCTV footage dates back to March 16, full two weeks before the crimes in Bucha were discovered, but about the same time when they were committed according to satellite images.
The video shows a squad of Russian soldiers approaching a gate of a car dealership located along a road north of Kyiv. They summoned the two men inside to approach the gate. The two men were the owner, whose family asked for his name not to be released, and a security guard, 68-year-old Leonid Plyats, retiree and grandfather; the two remained on the premises to keep looters out.
After frisking the two men to ensure they are not armed, the soldiers demanded cigarettes, and then appeared to depart. But after the men walked several paces away from the gate, one of the Russian soldiers returned and shot the two men in the back, mowing them down with a burst of gunfire.
Five soldiers proceed to loot the premises and drink liquor they found in one of the offices. Leonid Plyats, who initially survived, managed to crawl into the security guard’s booth and called a squad of local volunteer fighters for help. They came to his assistance but had to withdraw in the face of overwhelming enemy numbers. Mr Plyats succumbed to his injuries, having bled out to death. “It's a war crime for sure,” stated the leader of the volunteer fighters’ squad bluntly. “If there is any possibility to reach and catch them, I think they deserve the death penalty.”
CNN reached Mr Plyats’s daughter, Yulia. She said her father decided to stay, as he believed that it was his duty towards his employer. Because of the fighting, it was not possible to give Mr Plyats a proper burial. The family requested his remains be cremated. The ashes are still held in the local morgue, and the family waits for a chance to bury him next to his wife.
Leonid Plyats’s daughter has not watched the video showing her father’s death, but she holds onto it to be able to show it to others. She tries to focus on happier memories of her father, whom she described as a very cheerful man. She also hopes his murderers will face justice. “They need to be judged,” she said. “I hope for an international court. I hope that not only Ukraine but the whole world will learn about their crimes.”
According to Daria Herasymchuk, Ukrainian President’s children’s rights adviser, about 2,500 Ukrainian children have been kidnapped by the occupiers and taken into Russia.
In the occupied territories, Russian occupiers are kidnapping orphans and even snatching children away from their parents. Russians claim that the kidnappings are a “necessary evacuation from dangerous areas”, but as Herasymchuk points out, in such cases the children should be immediately returned to Ukrainian territory using secure corridors.
Reports of the conditions in which the Ukrainian children are kept indicate that they are in a dramatic situation. “They are like concentration camps. Russians call them ‘filtration camps’, but the conditions there are horrible,” said Herasymchuk.
According to data presented by Ms Herasymchuk, 226 Ukrainian children have been killed during the Russian invasion, and 420 were seriously injured. 14 children had to have their limbs amputated
as a result of particularly grievous injuries. As many as 218 children are hospitalised at present, and most of them, 51 percent to be precise, are between the ages of 7 and 14. In turn, 93 percent have been wounded as a result of a mine explosion or shelling. As Ms Herasymchuk summarises it: “The Russian Federation is waging a war against Ukrainian children.”
Children, along with women, also make up the bulk of all refugees who fled abroad. Of all child refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, Poland has accepted the most: 47 percent.
Reports of rapes keep multiplying, as new areas are liberated from under Russian occupation, and more and more victims and witnesses come forward. Some may never find it in themselves to reveal the violence they have been subjected to.
“The Times” reached several women living in a village located north of Kyiv, who decided to tell the journalists about what the Russians were doing while they were there. These events occurred in early March, two weeks into the war, and cannot be explained by the soldiers being demoralised by a long spell on the frontline. The officers must have either allowed it, or, as it is suggested by some of the revelations, encouraged it.
One 42-year-old woman, Vika, said that a Russian unit’s commander came to her and told her that his soldiers were drinking vodka and were now looking for some “fun”. She realised, that when the entering Russian forces told her and several other women to put white sheets on the gates of their homes, they were marking them for rape.
She said that in her street two men were killed, and two women, herself included, were raped. She and her 41-year-old neighbour, Natasha, were dragged out of their homes. In the process, Natasha’s husband was shot in the neck and killed. The women were taken to a building where the Russian soldiers were quartered. They were both gang-raped by soldiers, many of whom appeared to be in their teens or barely out of them.
Vika inquired one of them, a 19-year-old Daniil, whether he has a girlfriend. He said he does, that she is 17-years old, but he only kisses her on the cheek; with the women, he and his comrades intended to go all the way.
On May 13, the first criminal trial against a Russian soldier accused of war crimes began in Kyiv. The defendant is Sgt. Vadim Shimshimarin
, a captured Russian soldier serving in the Kantemirovskaya tank division from the Moscow region. The 21-year old is accused of “violations of the laws and norms of war,” but the act he is accused of boils down to an accusation of a cold-blooded murder.
On the fourth day of the invasion, February 28, Shimshimarin shot a 62-year-old man in the village of Chupakhivka
, in the Sumy Region, northwestern Ukraine. After his column was targeted by Ukrainian defenders, Shimshimarin and four other soldiers stole a private car to escape. When riding through Chupakhivka, they spotted an elderly, unarmed man riding a bicycle and talking on the phone.
Shimshimarin was told to shoot the man, as the soldiers feared he would reveal their location to Ukrainian forces. He carried out the order and fired, killing the elderly man on the spot with a single shot to the head.
The soldier eventually became a prisoner of war. When his crime came to light, he was charged. As Shishimarin’s lawyer, Viktor Ovsiannikov, told the press, “it is the first time this article [of the criminal code] is under court hearing, this is the first case. There is no precedent.” For his crime, Sgt. Shishimarin is facing the possibility of a life sentence.
Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of atrocities against civilians and identified more than 10,000 possible war crimes.
The Kremlin denies this accusation, saying that they were staged in order to smear Russian forces. The unit that was responsible for the atrocities in Bucha was even given the elite status of a “Guard” unit by Vladimir Putin himself, who lauded their “heroism”.