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'An Abyss Of Fear': HRW Documents 'Apparent War Crimes' By Russia In Southern Ukraine

By RFE/RL July 22, 2022

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Russia of perpetrating torture, unlawful detentions, and forcible disappearances of civilians in southern Ukraine's occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions.

In a report published on July 22, the New York-based rights watchdog said the alleged violations committed by Russian forces, which also included the torture of Ukrainian prisoners of war (POWs) held in the area under their control, amounted to war crimes.

"Russian forces have turned occupied areas of southern Ukraine into an abyss of fear and wild lawlessness," said HRW's Yulia Gorbunova.

"Torture, inhumane treatment, as well as arbitrary detention and unlawful confinement of civilians, are among the apparent war crimes we have documented, and Russian authorities need to end such abuses immediately and understand that they can, and will, be held accountable."

HRW said that, in compiling the report, it spoke with 71 people from Kherson, Melitopol, Berdyansk, Skadovsk, and 10 other cities and towns in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions.

The witnesses described 42 cases in which Russian troops held civilians arbitrarily, in some cases incommunicado, tortured many of them, and disappeared some of the detained. Three members of the Territorial Defense Forces who had the status of prisoners of war were also tortured. Two of them died, HRW said.

Among the methods of torture described by those interviewed were extended beatings, sometimes with baseball bats and electric shocks, which often resulted in injuries including broken ribs and other bones and teeth, severe burns, concussions, broken blood vessels in the eye, cuts, and bruises.

Victims of the Russian troops' brutality who were eventually released spent extended periods of time in the hospital and some could "barely walk" anymore.

The rights group said that the abuses were apparently aimed not only at obtaining information but also at instilling fear so that people will accept Russia's occupation.

In all but one of the cases, Russian forces did not inform families on the whereabouts of their loved ones and even refused to provide such information when asked by the victims' relatives.

Tamila Tasheva, permanent representative of the Ukrainian president in Crimea, told HRW that human rights monitors estimated that at least 600 people had been forcibly disappeared there since the beginning of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February.

Arbitrary detention, unlawful confinement, and enforced disappearances are all prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to or involve multiple war crimes.

"Ukrainians in occupied areas are living through a hellish ordeal," HRW's Gorbunova said. "Russian authorities should immediately investigate war crimes and other abuses by their forces in these areas, as should international investigative bodies with a view to pursuing prosecutions."

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-war-crimes-human-rights- watch-ukraine/31955080.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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