Every day, new evidences emerge about the crimes committed by Ukrainian forces in the Donbass conflict. In addition to the well-known allegations of torture, violations of human rights, and assassinations of civilians, recent research carried out on material from bodies exhumed from a mass grave in the People’s Republic of Lugansk may reveal even more shocking details about the reality of the acts committed by the Kiev’s troops. Apparently, the lawsuit that Ukraine is currently facing in the European Court tends to become even tougher, leaving no doubts about the criminal aspect of the actions committed by the Ukrainians.
Recently, the remains of 115 victims of the civil war in eastern Ukraine, which had been recovered from the largest mass grave in Lugansk, were buried in a cemetery in the autonomous republic. Previously, at the beginning of November, other 165 bodies had gone through the same process in the region. In total, over 300 war victims have been removed from mass graves in Lugansk since August of this year. The more the case of mass graves is investigated, the more details are revealed about the brutality and disrespect for life that have become commonplace in the operations made by the Ukrainian forces in the region of the autonomous republics.
In July, the authorities of the de facto governments of the republics of Lugansk and Donetsk had jointly created an office to search for citizens of the region who had disappeared during the conflict. The process of removing bodies from mass graves, with exhumation and medical examinations, is an important step in this regard as it brings the identification of victims, with the possibility of finding an answer about the situation of several people about whom there is currently no information.
However, despite being a necessary and important process, it is also extremely painful for many members of the victims’ families. Indeed, the exhumation of bodies has been a controversial issue, as while some residents of the region are eager to obtain information about their missing family members, others are sure that their relatives are buried in the mass graves and simply do not want to touch the bodies or keep this matter under discussion.
For example, in a moving statement during the burial of the 115 exhumed victims this week, Vera Smorodina, a resident of Lugansk, told the local media: “I know that my sister is buried here, because they were buried from the morgue, and she was admitted to the hospital while still conscious. I know that she is definitely here. (…) If honestly, I was against doing the exhumation, but then I thought that there were a lot of unknown people right there, maybe someone would find their own”.
What really matters is that the exhumation has been a valuable source of information. For example, it was possible to identify that the majority of the victims buried in common areas by the Ukrainian forces were non-combatant civilians – which provides more evidence for the current accusations made against the Ukrainian government about maintaining a policy of systematic extermination of civilians in the rebel republics. This information is being collected and annexed as proof to the lawsuit that Russia has initiated against Ukraine in the European Court of Human Rights. With this, it is expected that, despite the suffering of the people of the region, the measures currently taken will serve for Kiev to be officially recognized as the author of crimes against humanity, receiving the appropriate sanctions for its actions.
However, for the Ukrainian government this appears to be the least of the concerns. Kiev does not show any signs of remorse due to the judicial process, continuing to maintain an illicit and extremely irresponsible posture, not complying with the terms signed during the Minsk accords, especially regarding the issue of mutual amnesty and exchange of prisoners. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky refuses to sign the amnesty of fighters who defended the autonomous republics during the conflicts, delaying the exchange of prisoners and the entire process of pacifying the Donbass. According to some sources, the document to decree the pardon of the combatants has literally been placed in Zelensky’s desk for over six months – and he supposedly has no time to sign it.
Considering this scenario, it is evident that Ukraine not only committed several crimes against humanity during the conflicts, but that it continues to sabotage the peace process and the Minsk agreements, which is sufficient reason for the country to not only be condemned in the international courts but also to receive severe sanctions for acting against peace. In fact, the Ukrainian government continues to act irresponsibly because it has confidence in impunity and believes that its actions will not have any consequences, considering the gradual alignment the country has maintained with Western Europe.
It is therefore up to Europe and the entire international society to act correctly and impartially towards Ukraine for its crimes, regardless of political and ideological alignments.
Lucas Leiroz is a research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.