On April 9th, the blazingly brilliant military analyst who blogs anonymously as “Bernhard” at his “Moon of Alabama” site and whose headlines customarily understate what he actually proves, headlined “More Evidence That Ukraine Fired The Missile Which Killed Dozens In Kramatorsk”, and he or she supplied there not only ten screen-shots (plus links to many more of them) of the actual weapon that had been used in that bombing against Kramatorsk’s train station, but also explained how ridiculously unlikely it is that its trajectory, which he proved had come from an area that definitely was controlled by the Ukrainian government (NOT by Russian forces). However, what is to be provided here will be a historian’s take on this very question, which likewise displays manifestly the ridiculousness of the Ukrainian government’s accounts of this matter (that it had been an attack by Russia, not by Ukraine). When both the physical evidence and the clearly established historical narrative account of a given crime and of its motives fit together so perfectly, I believe that the legal case is proven true “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the ordinary standard of proof that’s required in any criminal matter.
On the morning of April 8th, the U.S.&EU press widely reported such headlines as “Live Updates: Russia Strikes Train Station, Ukraine Says, as Thousands Flee From East”, and “Ukraine News Live: Russian Rocket Attack on Kramatorsk Train Station Kills Dozens—Ukraine”, and “Dozens killed in train station missile strike in eastern Ukraine as civilians try to flee Russian onslaught” — all obviously trying to communicate (like their headlines were doing) that this had been an invasion of Kramatorsk by Russia in order to conquer its residents and take it for Russia, which is the story-line or narrative that the U.S. Government and its allies are presenting about this entire war — alleging, in other words, that the present war in Ukraine is a war by Russia to conquer all of Ukraine, and not a war by Russia to free from the Ukrainian government’s control areas of Ukraine that had voted heavily for the democratically elected and decidedly neutralist President of Ukraine in 2010, the President (Viktor Yanukovych) who subsequently became overthrown by a violent U.S. coup in February 2014, which was falsely presented to the public as having instead been a ‘democratic revolution’ there.
Kramatorsk, in fact, was — along with nearby Sloviansk — one of the two Ukrainian cities that the newly installed Ukrainian government (which had been installed by Victoria Nuland of Barack Obama’s Administration) invaded the earliest in all of Ukraine in order to conquer them so that they would be ruled by the newly installed (by Nuland) non-neutralist, but instead rabidly anti-Russian, regime.
In order for the public to be able to understand how the residents of that area in eastern Ukraine actually feel about this war that now is engulfing them, and how they view both the (now-invading) Russian forces and (ever since February 2014) the U.S.-installed regime there, a knowledge of the relevant recent history of that area is necessary; and, therefore, here are a few indisputable, solidly documented, relevant highlights of that recent relevant history:
16 April 2014, “A day of humiliation, as Ukrainian military offensive stalls, six armored vehicles seized”, as described by the pro-overthrow-of-Yanukovych Kyiv Post. Kramatorsk and Sloviansk are specifically mentioned there as having being the first Ukrainian cities that rebelled (on the prior day) against the new regime, and whose residents would therefore henceforth be officially labelled by the newly installed government as being targets of a just-announced “Anti-Terrorist Operation” or “ATO” to eliminate them. Anyone who would support the “rebels” would now officially be a “terrorist.”
5 May 2014, “Ukraine crisis: ‘Those fascists killed this girl and they will be in hell’”, Britain’s pro-overthrow-of-Yanukovych Telegraph reports from Kramatorsk “the people engulfed in a climate of fear” of the then-invading Ukrainian forces:
“For good or ill, more than 80 per cent of them voted for Viktor Yanukovych, the fallen president, in the last election in 2010. After all, he was born in the region and had previously served as governor of Donetsk. Moreover, a large minority of the people in this area – almost 40 per cent – identify themselves as ethnic Russians.
When Mr Yanukovych was overthrown in the revolution in February, supporters in his home area did not see this as the richly deserved downfall of a corrupt, authoritarian leader. Some had indeed come to loathe him, particularly for the shameless theft that was the most striking feature of his rule, but even they tended to believe that the moment to get rid of him would arrive at the election in 2015.
So the consensus in Donetsk was that the revolution was a coup d’état. … Never mind that the revolution was actually a genuine popular movement, supported by huge numbers of ordinary Ukrainians, including some in the east.”
7 May 2014, pro-overthrow Kyiv Post: “Ukrainian military forces have gained ground in the flashpoint cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk Oblast over the past week, but government authorities in general have largely lost their grip in the tough industrial oblast … [due to] the lawlessness stoked by the Kremlin.” Notice there the attribution of blame to Russia and NOT to the United States, which had actually installed the new government and dictated its racist-fascist anti-Russian character and policies at the top.
17 May 2014, anti-coup International Observatory of Ukrainian Crisis: “Reporting that militants of neo-nazi “Right Sector” have murdered a group of soldiers (members of the Ukrainian army) near Kramatorkaya Starovavarke (Kramatorsk)”, saying that “The soldiers [of Ukraine’s invading army in Kramatorsk] didn’t want to kill civilians. Then at midnight a squad of neo-nazis have fallen on them and murdered the soldiers. This is how the USA-EU impose democracy in Ukraine!!! Killing their own soldiers! And just because they didn’t want to kill civilians!!!”
18 May 2014, “Mortar Shelling of Kramatorsk” by Ukraine’s army on 18 May 2014, as it was shown on youtube
14 June 2014, International Business Times: “Kiev’s Slovyansk ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’ Kills 300 Pro-Russian Separatists”: “Ukrainian government forces are continuing with an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ which Kiev claims has eliminated 300 rebels and wounded 500 around the flashpoint city of Slovyansk. The Ukrainian forces used aircraft, helicopters and artillery to switch the balance of power [in Ukraine’s favor] in the strategic city which rebels have controlled since April. … US President Barack Obama has met with [America’s stooge-President of Ukraine at that time] Poroshenko in Poland, calling him a ‘wise selection’ to lead the country on its pro-European course. He said the country had the potential to become a thriving democracy.”
7 July 2014, U.S. State Department, Washington, DC:
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, July 7, 2014
1:23 p.m. EDT
Briefer: Jen Psaki, Spokesperson …
MS. PSAKI: Well, a few updates. As you noted, over the weekend we all saw reports that the Ukrainian Government was able to expel Russian-supported separatists from the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. The government immediately moved to begin restoring public services and to providing assistance to residents in need in those areas.
Fighting does continue in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and the option of a ceasefire remains on the table. But it takes two to participate in a ceasefire, and President Poroshenko had that ceasefire for 10 days and didn’t see reciprocal participation or engagement from the other side. So there are still remaining steps that we have called on the Russian-backed separatists and the Russians to take. Those remain on the table.
QUESTION: You say that it’s two sides, but it would seem that all your discussion is three sides.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Russian-backed separatists and the Russians are on the same side.
QUESTION: So they – so you equate the separatists with Russia?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m equating, but in terms of —
QUESTION: For the purposes of – for the purposes of this, you think that the – Russia saying yes to a ceasefire is the same thing as the separatists saying yes to a ceasefire?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve long felt that they have a strong influence with the actions of the Russian separatists, and there’s more they can do to influence.
QUESTION: Right. Right, but the thing is – is that they had said yes, had they not? I mean, the Russians had supported it; Putin had supported it. But you don’t think that that message – or that they did enough to rein in the separatists in fighting the Ukrainian Government, right?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Is that – so that would mean that it’s three sides to the ceasefire, because you need the separatists to go along with it, and you think that that won’t happen unless Moscow says “do it,” right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I still – my view is two sides. We can disagree on the shape of the —
QUESTION: I’m just – whether it’s a triangle or a line, I don’t know.
MS. PSAKI: Triangle or a line, yes.
17 August 2014, “Interrogation of a [Captured] Ukrainian POW conscript – ENG SUBS”, youtube (https://youtu.be/drrqMcH2xMo?t=350), my excerpt here being from the Donetsk-Lugansk militia’s interview with a Ukrainian-army draftee, the 24-year-old Private Juri Petrowich Smyk, whose Battery of men got caught “in a tight cauldon,” and so were captured by the Donetsk-Lugansk (anti-coup) forces. “You mentioned prior to this recording that wounded soldiers were buried alive. Where did this occur? That was near Krasny Terrikon. They hired an old man, a local, who used an excavator to dig a dump. Afterwards, the wounded [Donetsk-Lugansk militiamen] were dropped in there. And they were buried, right? Yes. The dump was filled up, and a tank circled over it afterwards. Maybe to make sure they were buried deep.”
October 2014, “How Our People Do Their Extermination-Jobs In Ukraine”, an article by me based upon a then recently captured (22 October 2014) videocam recording which showed corpse-creation-and processing that was very much like what Private Smyk was describing, but of corpses of civilians instead of soldiers:
Below is a video of “our side” in the Ukrainian civil war carrying out part of the Ukrainian Defense Minister, Mikhail Koval’s, extermination plan, which was injudiciously announced and described by him right after a press conference.
On June 11th, an “Anti-Maidan” or anti-ethnic-cleansing, site, posted to youtube excerpts from previously unpublished press-conference Q&A-session statements by Koval, which had been made perhaps immediately following the Defense Minister’s private meeting on June 4th with top NATO officials, who endorsed his plan, which thus started. This youtube was titled “Secretary of Defense [Mikhailo Koval] About Concentration Camp for Eastern Ukraine People.”
He was shown there saying:
“There will be a thorough filtration of people. There will be special filtration measures put in place. We will filter out people, including women, who are linked to separatism, who were committing crimes on Ukrainian territory, crimes related to terrorist activities. We have a lot of information regarding this, and we have a formidable framework to combat this, and respective power structures will carry out this operation. Besides, this is a serious issue, related to the fact that people will be resettled to other regions.”
The people shown in the video below were not “resettled to other regions.” These were instead among the ones who were slated for immediate processing. They were forced into a ditch at night, and shot. Presumably, dirt was then immediately pushed over them (or over their corpses, for the ones that were dead).
Here is that video. The interesting background as to how this video came to be uploaded to the Web, instead of merely filed in an accounts-payables office of the Ukrainian military in order to verify that the perpetrators had done their jobs and needed to be paid the contracted amount for the people whom they had disposed of, and for the corpses that they had produced and presumably buried, for the Ukrainian Government, is well explained at the site linked-to below. It’ll be presented here, with full credit to them and to everyone who has enabled this information to become public at liveleak, youtube, and other sites, though those individuals are anonymous, for understandable reasons. Here, then, that is (with its typo uncorrected):
By Lviv | October 23, 2014
Car with a mounted video camera belonging to members of Ukrainian punitive nationalist battalion was caputred earlier this week by self-defense forces of Donetsk People’s Republic. Part of the video shows Ukrainian radicals taking several locals to a large hole in the ground in a wooded area, make locals get in the hole and then shot them.
That title is entirely correct: this outfit is called the “Donbass Punishers Battalion,” and the victims shown being thrown into the ditch are all dressed in civilian clothes, not dressed as soldiers are.
Here is the broader context in which this extermination-program can be understood.
February 2016, University of Sussex study: “Violence and political outcomes in Ukraine — Evidence from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk”:
In this paper, we study the effects of violence on political outcomes using a survey of respondents in Sloviansk and Kramatorsk – two cities that were affected heavily by the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. We show that experiencing physical damage goes together with lower turnout, a higher probability of considering elections irrelevant and a lower probability of knowing one’s local representatives. We also find that property damage is associated with greater support for pro-Western parties. … Of the 396 respondents in our final sample who named the party they voted for, 52.5% indicated they voted [in May 2014, the first ‘election’ that was held after the coup, and after perhaps around a million voters in Ukraine had either been killed or escaped into Russia, or were residents in Donbass or in Crimea who therefore no longer could vote in Ukrainian elections] for a pro-Russia party, while 47.5% voted for a pro-Western oriented party. Others either did not vote, didn’t remember whom they voted for or didn’t want to say whom they voted for. [Due to the paper’s “pro-Western” slant, the authors didn’t treat the interviewees who “didn’t want to say whom they voted for” as possibly being afraid of the invading post-coup regime’s forces and being afraid that the interviewers might somehow be agents of this new Ukrainian regime. The interviewers didn’t ask the interviewees whom they had voted for in the 2010 election, because the authors were pro-coup and didn’t want to know that information.]
In this paper, we investigate the effect of personally experiencing the consequences of violence on political participation, views and knowledge, using individual level data from the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. After the Maidan revolution that replaced the then-president, Victor Yanukovich, in February 2014, pro-Russian militants in the East of Ukraine started to take control of government buildings in several cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions during the first two weeks of April 2014. On15 April 2014, the Ukrainian government launched a counter-offensive [notice their use of that phrase “counter-offensive,” denoting that the military forces which had invaded Kramatorsk and Sloviansk from Kiev represented the interviewees instead of represented the interviewees’ enemies] deploying government troops in the East of Ukraine. Initially, this counter-offensive had limited success and the Ukrainian army only made major advances after separatist forces pulled out from the city of Sloviansk on 5 July 2014. [The authors simply assumed that it had been a “revolution” instead of a “coup”: the authors were suckers, or else liars, but in either case, to call them social “scientists” is to insult science and all authentic practitioners of science. Their study was instead an example of propaganda, not of any authentic science.]
Furthermore, Obama’s effort to get rid of enough pro-Russian voters so as to be able to ensure long-term continuance of the new anti-Russian Ukrainian government by ‘democratic’ (meaning here simply electoral) means, did, indeed, cause many residents there to flee into adjoining Russia.
So: considering that both Kramatorsk and Sloviansk were the first two Ukrainian cities to rebel against the Obama-installed regime, one might reasonably assume that Russia would have had zero motivation — indeed, negative motivation, motivation to OPPOSE — any bombing of Kramatorsk’s train station and killing of civilians there, but that Ukraine would have had much motivation to do it, in order to be able to fool the publics in U.S.-allied nations to support sending to Ukraine’s government even more weapons, and ultimately to expedite NATO’s expansion to include Ukraine, which now is being cast by the ‘news’media in those nations into the role of being a heroic defender of democracy.
Indeed, on April 8th, the Financial Times headlined “Nato states agree to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine”, and reported that UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss commented, after speaking with (unidentified) “western officials,” “’There was support for countries to supply new and heavier equipment to Ukraine, so that they can respond to these new threats from Russia,’ she said. ‘And we agreed to help Ukrainian forces move from their Soviet-era equipment to Nato standard equipment’,” which would mean that ‘defense’ stocks, such as Lockheed Martin, which have been soaring ever since the 1991 termination of the Soviet Union in 1991, will now experience supercharged increases in sales and profits. While vastly more people will become destroyed and homeless, those investors will be “cleaning up.”
NOTE: America did the same thing in Syria (such as in the instance discussed here, here, and here), but using as its proxy-forces not nazis there, such as it does in Ukraine, but instead jihadists and separatist Kurdish forces.
Zelenskyy Could and Does Make Mistakes Too
The war in Ukraine has transformed President Volodymyr Zelenskyy from a rather weak leader to a world-renowned one who has become a household name. Now a celebrity president, Zelenskyy has been delivering war aid and inspiring speeches on social media, while condemning Russia.
Although Zelenskyy has successfully created a positive image and has countless fans, he is not a god and might make mistakes.
Mariupol has been a hotspot of the war in Ukraine, a city trapped in Russian military territory and embattled on all sides. At the same time, an isolated Ukrainian garrison, which includes part of the Azov fighters that Russia calls “Nazis” and wants to eliminate.
The challenge is that the geopolitically savvy Russian President Vladimir Putin knows very well how to manipulate Mariupol’s garrison to create geopolitical opportunities. Therefore, he ordered not to attack the Azov steel plant in Mariupol but to use them as a bargaining chip. Shortly thereafter, then came the decisive moment. After more than 80 days of unexpectedly heroic fighting, the Ukrainian garrison finally ran out of ammunition and food. At the last minute, even their wives begged the Pope to intervene, hoping to save their lives.
If Putin agrees in good faith to stop the attacks on the Ukrainian garrison, further peace talks are possible. The world will take note of this, and Turkey is willing to provide ships and security to pick up the Ukrainian garrison of the steel plant, ensuring that they would not return to the front until the war is over.
At noon on May 16, the last chance came. The Azov regiment commander Denis Prokopenko, who is often engaged in media coverage, said that the Ukrainian garrison in the Azovstal factory had completed their task and successfully distracted the Russian army for 82 days and attracted a large number of Russian forces. His statement appeared to announce the end of the siege of the steel plant. On the same day, Russian media also mentioned that Russia and Ukraine had reached an agreement to evacuate seriously wounded soldiers from Azovstal to the Russian-occupied city of Novoazovsk. Reuters reported that about a dozen buses carrying the Ukrainian garrison had left the factory.
The world believes that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia to withdraw the garrison from the Azov steel plant appear to have achieved some kind of result.
On May 17, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces first issued a statement saying that the Mariupol garrison “has completed its combat mission”. The commander of the Ukrainian army unit defending the Azovstal steel plant received an order from the highest military command “to save the lives of personnel”, the statement stated. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that 53 seriously wounded soldiers have been taken to medical facilities in Novoazovsk. Another 211 defenders have been sent to Olenivka through humanitarian channels and will be returned to government-controlled territory through a prisoner-of-war exchange process, and measures are currently being taken to rescue the other defenders who are still at the Azovstal steel plant.
Somewhat subtly, Azov regiment commander Denis Prokopenko said in a video statement that his soldiers succeeded in distracting the overwhelming enemy force, which allows the rest of the Ukrainian forces to restructure. He however also pointed out that, “the main thing is to realize whether all the risks have been calculated, whether Plan B has been worked out, whether you have fully dedicated yourself to this plan, which should combine fulfilling the task and ultimately preserve lives and health of personnel”.
Prokopenko also emphasized that, “war is art, not science”. “This is the highest level of command and control of troops, especially when your decision is approved by the top military leadership”.
Later on May 17, Zelenskyy said that “Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive”. He also mentioned “thanks to the actions of the Ukrainian military – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, intelligence, the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, we hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Zelenskyy said further, recalling that among them were seriously wounded soldiers, to whom medical assistance is now being provided. He also stressed this point, “I want to emphasize: Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think that every adequate person will understand these words”.
Up until this point, I believe most people still think that the Ukraine-Russia talks are going well and executed.
Inexplicably, the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister states that Russia would not implement the agreed agreements. Then, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko revealed “negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are not going on anymore,” accusing Ukraine of not agreeing to Russia’s conditions. Since then, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian President’s Office, confirmed that the talks have been suspended. The risks that what Prokopenko, the commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, feared most have fully emerged.
Negotiations between Ukraine and the Russia are currently on hold. Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian President, mentioned on Ukrainian TV. “Russia does not understand that the war is no longer waged according to the rules, schedule or plans of Russia in any sense, while the professional resistance of Ukraine only ramps up”. He firmly stressed that none of Russia’s goals can be achieved, and Ukraine will not trade territory for peace with Russia. “It is ideologically unacceptable for us to give something to the Russian Federation and pretend that it was some kind of easy war,” Podolyak said further. “We cannot afford any Minsk agreements. Therefore, we must de-occupy all our territories”. He said that a new Minsk agreement could be signed by another president, but not President, as it would only worsen the conflict in the next one or two years.
His remarks seemed to imply that President Zelenskyy rejected Russia’s negotiating terms and insisted on fighting to the end. The challenge is that the successive surrender of the Azovstal’s regiment has become unmanageable.
The Ukrainian garrison that was originally besieged by the Russians at the Azovstal steel plant has surrendered. Instead of being exchanged back to Ukraine, they were evacuated to areas controlled by Russian forces and pro-Russian armed forces. A Russian negotiator even called for the Ukrainians to be sentenced to death because “they do not deserve to live”. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Ukrainian soldiers and the regiment surrounded by the Azov steel plant in Mariupol are still coming out to surrender. On May 18, 694 people surrendered, 29 of whom were wounded. Since May 16, the total number of surrendered Ukrainian garrison has reached 959, including 80 wounded.
As it stands, information on the entire negotiation over Azov steel plant is not transparent and deliberately fabricated or modified.
For example, who rejected Turkey’s participation? Was it Russia or Ukraine? Turkey has provided security, so is there no security in the negotiations now? Did the Ukrainian garrison want to surrender and Zelenskyy had to agree to surrender, or did the negotiations go wrong? Did the Ukrainian negotiators advocate for a deal with Russia, or did Russia later tear up the deal and frame the Ukrainian military presence? Did Russia tear up the deal because Zelenskyy refused to continue the negotiations?
None of these questions have clear answers. The only certainty is that Russia and Ukraine did negotiate, but no agreement is reached. However, the Azov steel plant militants had begun to surrender in large numbers.
Amidst such confusion, Zelenskyy is now having a hard time explaining that he had nothing to do with it. The Modern War Institute took note of the confusion in this diplomatic negotiation and can only assert that a diplomatic agreement has been reached.
So far, Zelenskyy has provided no further explanation for the negotiations, and this is unfair to the Mariupol garrison. Zelenskyy should instead make use of existing resources to achieve better conditions. From the negotiation process, he did not do so. Whatever his decision might be, there will certainly be negative impacts on Ukrainian society and even the morale of the garrison. Part of the reason apparently has to do with his overly optimistic view of the war in Ukraine.
All the chaos came at a price, the Russians continue to bomb the Azov steel plant simply because the Azovstal regiment is still fighting there.
A Weapon of War: Rapes in the Ukraine-Russia Conflict
Warfare has always involved violent activity. It is the state-sanctioned, societally accepted form of murder determining which nation-state or non-state actor has power over an enemy. Like any area of society, however, warfare is governed by a series of laws and regulations (commonly known as the Law of Land Warfare) being codified in international law in 1899, 1907, and 1929 and by individual nation-states afterward. While these rules are often followed by at least one entity in a military conflict, there usually is a violation of the Law of Land Warfare in any military action.
While every violation is incredibly serious and important, one that often stands out in military conflicts is sexual assault or rape.
While it is one of (if not the) most abhorrent criminal actions known to man, rape has and always will be a commonality in warfare and violent conflicts. It is practically as old as warfare itself. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “… [wartime] rape was long considered an unfortunate but inevitable accompaniment of war—the result of the prolonged sexual deprivation of troops and insufficient military discipline” with the Second World War being a prime example of wartime rape on both sides of the conflict. Until the prevalence of international law in the late 20th century, wartime rape was “mischaracterized and dismissed by military and political leaders—in other words, those in a position to stop it—as a private crime, a sexual act, the ignoble conduct of one occasional soldier, or, worse still, it has been accepted precisely because it is so commonplace”, according to academics writing in Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS Review of International Affairs.
Partly due to an increase in unconventional conflicts involving non-state actors, “the international community began to recognize rape as a weapon and strategy of war, and efforts were made to prosecute such acts under existing international law” including Article 27 of the Geneva Convention and multiple declarations by the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights, the Fourth World Conference on Women, the International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council. These declarations and codifications further allowed for the protection of men, women, and children in combat zones from rape in addition to making crimes of sexual assault eligible to be considered as crimes against humanity or war crimes.
While international law is clear and the penalties for such actions heavy, nation-states and non-state actors can choose to disregard such laws. This is best exemplified in the current era with the Ukraine-Russia Conflict.
While most persons first heard of the rape of Ukrainians by Russian troops in mid to late April of 2022, roughly two months into the invasion, reports and developments on wartime rape by Russian troops was circulating heavily. The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), looking at information received and vetted between the 22nd of February and 26th of March, reported there were “heightened risks of conflict related sexual violence (CRSV)” in addition to “a high number of women and girls [who are feeling Ukraine] face high risk of human trafficking and sexual exploitation”. While these reports were based on secondary sources or “made by alleged witnesses”, it is worth noting that Ukrainian law enforcement and the Prosecutor General of Ukraine all began investigating multiple reports of sexual assault of Ukrainians by Russian troops and that, generally, victims of rape may not report for a variety of reasons.
Other international entities, including Human Rights Watch, the New York Times, and BBC News, all reported further allegations of rape by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, yet these were relatively overshadowed by the news of active combat.
One of the first major outlets to report on this was The Guardian on 4 April 2022 which documented reports from victims and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on rape in Ukraine. Interviewing Kateryna Cherepakha, the president of sexual assault charity La Strada Ukraine, “We have had several calls to our emergency hotline from women and girls seeking assistance, but in most cases it’s been impossible to help them physically. We haven’t been able to reach them because of the fighting … Rape is an underreported crime and stigmatised issue even in peaceful times. I am worried that what we learn about is just going to be the tip of the iceberg”.
Throughout April and into May, rapes in Ukraine were reported on more heavily as victims, Ukrainian officials, and every day Ukrainians were speaking up. This drew the attention of many international entities including the International Criminal Court which launched “a war crimes investigation”, citing the rapes as being a key piece of evidence, and the European Parliament which condemned the use of rape as a weapon. The UN’s special representative on sexual violence in war also received “reports, not yet verified” concerning the sexual assault of men and boys throughout Ukraine stating “It’s hard for women and girls to report [rape] because of stigma amongst other reasons, but it’s often even harder for men and boys to report … we have to create that safe space for all victims to report cases of sexual violence”. The UN as a whole has demanded the allegations “be independently investigated to ensure justice and accountability”.
Throughout this military endeavor, Russia has denied allowing the rape of civilians (or any such war crimes) to occur, these denials being bolstered by various American and Western podcasters and questionable news sites. While Russia and other Putin apologists can try to deny such war crimes or illegal violations of the law of land warfare is taking place, others experienced in the field of sexual assault and human rights have contested this. Hugh Williamson with Human Rights Watch (HRW), speaking to CBC Radio, said HRW was “being very cautious … It’s taken us some time to piece it together, to make sure we are absolutely sure it is true and verifiable. We’re not saying this is very widespread, but we worry that it could be”.
While it is still quite difficult to ascertain what exactly is occurring in Ukraine, given the fact that a full on war is being exercised, it is likely to believe that some manner of war crimes, including sexual assault, is occurring. The fact that Russia has historically engaged in misinformation campaigns, knowingly spread false information in regards to the Ukraine crisis, and in the past engaged in war crimes throughout Eastern Europe in the post-Cold War era all indicate strongly that Russia can and will do whatever possible to try and conceal any negative news or obscure any real actions occurring.
Looking at this from a legal perspective, the case for Russian culpability in regards to war crimes and particularly sexual assaults in Ukraine is already being made. With the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in war accurately asserting “Today’s documentation is tomorrow’s prosecution”, proving such crimes will be difficult. Speaking to Dara Kay Cohen, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, NPR reported, “It is very rare to ever have smoking gun evidence that rape was ordered from the top down … There is some degree of accountability, but it is rare. But I think that that does not imply, however, that we shouldn’t be doing our best to collect all of the documentation that we possibly can in order to potentially hold perpetrators accountable”.
Proving or disproving sexual assault in wartime is a difficult task, even more so given the fact that the armed conflict is still occurring. It is without question that there is animosity between the Western world and Russia, which makes there a certain degree of speculation about how prevalent these assaults are. However, at this point, one must look at the facts on the ground.
It is very well documented that multiple Ukrainians are reporting assaults from a wide variety of locations and their stories all follow a similar tone common in military conflicts. The forensic information already collected by independent Ukrainian doctors, prosecutors, and the UN who examine the bodies of those deceased indicates multiple assaults by Russian troops. Intercepted telephone calls from the family of Russian soldiers to the soldiers currently taking part in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also indicate a condoning of such illegal and brutal activities.
At this point, it is undeniable that these reports are impossible to ignore with the forensic, eyewitness, technical, and historical evidence all painting a sinister picture of rape in Ukraine.
The Media Fog of War: Propaganda in the Ukraine-Russia Conflict
The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine has once again opened up the old wounds of east vs. west, continuing the long-established tradition of distrust and sometimes even open hatred from these two centers of power. This can be seen across the spectrum of media outlets in the west along with their counterparts in the east, as both sides push forth propaganda and favorable coverage so as to always show their side in a favorable light. With western media outlets, their coverage of the war has been very positive for the Ukrainians while showing the exact opposite when considering Russians. Western media quickly picks up Ukrainian propaganda pieces and repeats them for their audiences at home, who then take to social media to gloat over Russian losses and embarrassments.
Stories like the “Ghost of Kyiv,” the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island, and others which have later proven to be inaccurate or not based in truth spread like wildfire across media outlets (Thompson, New York Times, Washington Post, etc). Certainly, a story about a Ukrainian fighter pilot shooting down several Russian jets is noteworthy and a country facing assaults from a greater power needs to boost morale every chance it gets. However, the willingness to circulate the Ghost of Kyiv tale across western media outlets displayed a clear bias for the Ukrainian side of the war in the west and, even though many have poked holes in the myth of this mysterious fighter pilot, people still disregard its “fake newsiness.” Thompson pointed out that some users on social media shared a willingness to believe in the propaganda, even knowing that it was made up: “if the Russians believe it, it brings fear. If the Ukrainians believe it, it gives them hope,” remarked one user on Twitter. This set a dangerous precedent as truth became a casualty in the war in favor of people wanting to simply find stories that would support their favored narrative and consequently ignore more accurate reporting.
Propaganda can be a useful tool for any country fighting to protect itself, but it can also lead to the spreading of falsehoods abroad and even lead some westerners to become inspired to take up arms in a conflict they probably should not get embedded within. Over 20,000 foreign fighters have signed up to fight for Ukraine in an International Brigade after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a call for help. Many of these people have little to no combat experience but were persuaded to fight for Ukraine so that they could be on “the right side of history” or combat injustice in a conflict that has been lauded as a brave underdog battle between the aggressor state Russia – longtime enemy of the west – and the small “noble” nation of Ukraine (Llana, Christian Science Monitor). Propaganda tales amplified by the media are largely responsible for bringing these foreign soldiers into a complex situation that they are not prepared for, ultimately risking an exacerbation of the war rather than a resolution of the conflict.
Stories like these have fortified in the minds of western audiences a strong dislike for Russia, its citizens, and its military. On social media channels, people were quick to put up symbols associated with Ukraine, most commonly, the Ukrainian flag, to show their support for its struggle as many, especially those in America, seemed to instinctively root for any underdog in a war. Support for Ukraine, though, naturally leads to discrimination toward Russians. Disregard for the suffering of Russian soldiers, a willingness to ignore the reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the ostracizing of Russian citizens from the rest of the world – whether physically via travel or economically via sanctions – will have negative repercussions for the international community for years to come. Many celebrate every victory that Ukraine scores against Russia, heedless of the human cost of the war in general. This may very well deepen the divide between east and west before the war ends and force many average Russian citizens into a retributive hatred for those in Europe and North America who treated their country so harshly when they themselves were powerless to stop or prevent the Ukraine-Russia war.
Russian businesses have also been subject to discrimination in the west. Companies like Starbucks, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Electric and McDonald’s all announced that they were temporarily suspending their operations in Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine (Williams, Fox10 Phoenix). Sanctions laid down on Russia in an effort to stagnate its economy also extend to banks, legislators, and even oligarchs but will leave a much more powerful and profound effect on the general populace. This punishment will trickle down to Russian citizenry who have played no part in the conflict at all but will suffer the most from these economic sanctions, simply because they live in the aggressor country.
This negativity against Russia and its people already existed prior to the Ukrainian-Russian war, but was reignited by the conflict. Many people in the west find it easy to fall into the camp of attacking the long-standing “enemy” due to the history left behind by the Cold War, by the psychologically-imprinted suspicion of those across the sea who threatened us with nuclear weapons for so long. In places like the U.S., there almost seems to exist a willingness to not hear the other side’s point of view, a refusal to acknowledge the sufferings of very human foes who are not so different from their adversaries. The question of why many Americans would even feel the need to take a position in a conflict that has little bearing on their everyday lives could have more than one answer. The need to cheer on an underdog in a pitched struggle, the old hatred left over by the Cold War, or possibly a need to satisfy the age-old good guy vs. bad guy complex which has been hardwired into many people’s minds through television, movies, literature, and other parts of our pop culture. For many, there exists a need to satisfy one’s own moral superiority, a need to establish good from evil. The recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia has given many the outlet they seek for this vindication.
The question of whether this treatment of Russia is justified or not lies primarily with an individual’s perception of the country as a belligerent at the international level or a nation trying to clearly define where its sphere of influence begins and ends. Russia invading Ukraine and starting a war rife with human tragedy on both sides was not done simply because Russia as a state is a villain or it gets its kicks by starting wars randomly. A deeper examination of the “whys” surrounding Russia’s invasion is desperately needed, where the proffered reasons are given legitimate analytical consideration. So far, this type of analysis has not been done. Ultimately, why it matters is because reaching into that understanding may help prevent a country like Russia in the future from feeling the need to invade at all.
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