KYIV, Ukraine — The United Nations released a report on Wednesday detailing extrajudicial killings by the Russian Army during the first month of the war, offering a harrowing, fine-grained examination of the risks to civilians in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights documented 441 killings of civilians in areas along the Russian attack route toward the capital, Kyiv, on both the west and east banks of the Dnipro River. Of these, 28 were children, the report said. It said the total number of killings in the area was “likely considerably higher.”
The report arose from one of several international investigations into the macabre scenes discovered in the wake of the Russian Army’s retreat from Kyiv. Ukrainian prosecutors are also collecting evidence.
The report’s aim was to assist future prosecutions and document war crimes in part to deter abuses as the war continues.
As the war stretches into its 10th month, the Ukrainian government has staunchly rejected suggestions from some European and American politicians to negotiate a settlement while territory remains under occupation, pointing to the rights abuses discovered in areas reclaimed from Russia.
The Ukrainian authorities discovered more than 1,000 bodies after the Russian withdrawal from around Kyiv. The U.N. investigators focused on proven cases of summary execution or targeting of individual civilians by Russian soldiers, excluding victims of artillery shelling. The report focused narrowly on killings by the Russian Army in towns and villages north of Kyiv occupied from Feb. 24 to April 6.
War crimes prosecutions are likely years away, and Russia’s government has rejected cooperation, a point noted in the U.N. report. It noted that Russia had shown “no indications” that it intended to investigate or prosecute its soldiers for war crimes. Units from Russia’s Eastern Military District, based in eastern Siberia, formed the bulk of the assault force deployed toward Kyiv in February.
“Soon after the retreat of Russian troops from various town and villages,” the report noted, “local residents, authorities and law enforcement began to recover bodies of dead civilians in considerable numbers.” The bodies were found on streets, in fields, parks, forested areas, in houses, in burned vehicles on highways, in basements and pits and improvised graves, it said.
The investigators studied a selection of 100 cases in greater detail, including in the town of Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv where bodies were found scattered on streets after the Russian retreat.
Of the 100 cases studied, 57 were summary executions and others instances where civilians were shot from a distance as they drove in cars, rode bicycles or walked, sometimes while trying to flee the combat zone, the report said.
“In most cases, victims of killings in places of detention were found with their hands cuffed or bound by duct tape, and with injuries suggesting torture or other ill-treatment before being killed,” the report said. One body had signs consistent with sexual violence, it said.
The investigators relied on site visits, interviews with relatives, records of forensic examinations, and photographs and audio recordings, the report said. It said that evidence suggested violations of treaties that Russia is party to, including the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The report documented specific murders in grim detail. One woman hid in an apartment while gunshots were heard on the street, for example. She emerged to find her husband and another man shot dead. “The wife buried both victims in the yard the same day,” the report noted.
A Russian armored column passing through the town of Mokhnatyn opened fire on three teenage boys on the roadside, decapitating one with heavy-caliber fire and fatally wounding the others. “The second boy could communicate and asked, ‘Does it look bad?’” about his injury, the report said, citing witnesses. The boy died on the way to the hospital, it said.