The Kherson rape investigation by the Russian army begins in November, but does not end there, as the Ukrainian military invades Kyiv
MOSCOW — For months, Russia’s state media has insisted that the country was hitting only military targets in Ukraine, leaving out the suffering that the invasion has brought to millions of civilians.
On Monday, state television not only reported on the suffering, but also flaunted it. It showed smoke, carnage, empty store shelves, and a long-range forecast for freezing temperatures in central Kyiv.
The shift was seen as a sign that domestic pressure on Russia had grown, and that President Vladimir V. Putin believed that a brutal show of force was necessary for his own audience at home.
As the sun sets at the end of a long day, the two-man team arrives in Novovoznesens’ke, a village where they’ve uncovered two more cases of rape, allegedly by Russian soldiers. They will return to Kyiv the next day to present their findings.
Until early October, this area of the country was occupied by Russian troops. Burnt-out cars litter the fields. The letter ‘Z’ – a symbol used by Russian forces – marks the walls.
The United Nations says it has investigated cases in Ukraine of “sexual and gender-based violence” against people ranging from 4 to 82 years old. A number of criminal proceedings were initiated according to the UN.
The team from Ukranian documented six claims of sexual assault in two weeks in the Kherson region. The real number is almost certainly much higher, they say.
“They walked around those rooms,” she says. One of them stayed and the other one raped me. He came in, walked a little bit around the room and here in this place, he started groping me.”
He pinned her against the wardrobe, she says, and tore at her clothes. “I was crying, begging him to stop, but with no success,” she says. I had only one thought, to stay alive.
He warned her not to tell anyone, she recalls. She said she didn’t tell her husband right away. My husband heard and I told my cousin. He said, ‘You should have told me the truth, but you kept silent.’”
She lost her husband more than 30 years ago, and her son joined the military after the Russian invasion of February 24. She decided to leave, she says, about three months after Russian troops occupied her village.
A Syrian villager in the shadows of a Soviet invasion: A case study in Kherson during the end of the Russian invasion and the horrors of occupation
His commander went to the head of his unit. He told me the most severe punishment was to come after he broke his jaw. Like shooting. The commander inquired, “Do you mind this?” I said, ‘I don’t mind, I wish all of them will be shot.’”
The prosecutor is looking at evidence of sexual crimes but they are faced with the horrors of occupation everywhere they go.
The village was behind Russian lines, but never directly occupied. Those gathered round shout that they’ve been abandoned for months, with no help from either Russia or Ukraine.
A man in the crowd tells the investigators that he was held by Russian soldiers and subjected to mock execution. It’s hard to hear, tales of torture like this are common here, but that’s not the subject of their work today.
Once the scene of large protests against Russian plans to transform the region into a breakaway pro-Russian republic, the streets of Kherson are now filled with jubilant residents wrapped in Ukrainian flags, or with painted faces, singing and shouting.
At the end of the summer and early October, Ukrainian forces regained hundreds of square miles of territory that Russia had held since the beginning of their full-scale invasion.
A mother and daughter go for a short drive around the town of Tverdomedove and tell Kleshchenko they haven’t heard of any sex crimes.
Months later, after the Ukrainian military liberated her village in a lightning counteroffensive, she returned. She’d lost her roof to the rafters.
CNN Follows the Crime against Crime: Observing the Fall of a 17-Year-old Infant on the West Bank of the Kherson River
She said she didn’t know where to put it so it wouldn’t fall on her head. I wouldn’t have to suffer if it fell and killed me. I want to see my son again.
Of course, many of these allegations will be impossible to prove; many do not even have a suspect. For now, the team files its reports, and its investigators continue their work, hoping to be able to file charges in the future.
Our team of CNN journalists was forced to drive through diversions and fields for most of the journey through small towns and settlements.
Russia withdrew from the west bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson, leaving the city to be left by the Ukrainians.
“Mounting evidence of Russia’s actions lays bare the Kremlin’s aims to deny and suppress Ukraine’s identity, history, and culture,” it continued. The impact of Putin’s war onUkraine’s children will last a long time. The United States will stand with Ukraine and pursue accountability for Russia’s appalling abuses for as long as it takes.”
The city’s residents have no water, no internet connection and little power. The CNN crew arrived at the city center on Saturday, and there was a joyful mood.
The military presence is still limited, but huge cheers erupt from crowds on the street every time a truck full of soldiers drives past, with Ukrainian soldiers being offered soup, bread, flowers, hugs and kisses by elated passersby.
An old man and an old woman hugging a young soldier, with hands on the soldier’s shoulder, exchanging excited “thank yous” as CNN stopped to regroup.
The experiences that have terrified people after living in Russia include being taken and beaten by the Russians, and even being a spy. Residents are overwhelmed by what freedom means, and they told us they are emotionally exhausted.
Everyone wants you to understand what the occupiers have gone through, how happy they are, and how grateful they are for the countries that have helped them.
Zelensky’s War in Ukraine: Putin’s Threat and the Role of the USA in the War Between the United States and Ukraine
The war in Ukraine was set for a long confrontation after President Zelensky visited Washington, according to Moscow.
The Foreign Ministry of Russia condemned what it called themonstrous crimes of the regime in Kyiv after US President Joe Biden promised more military support to Ukraine during a meeting with Zelensky.
The Foreign Ministry’s Maria Zakharova said that no matter how much military support the West provides to the Ukrainian government, they will not achieve anything.
“As the leadership of our country has stated, the tasks set within the framework of the special military operation will be fulfilled, taking into account the situation on the ground and the actual realities,” Zakharova added, referring to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Zelensky had delivered a speech from US Capitol in which he expressed gratitude for American help fighting Russian aggression since the war began.
However, the Kremlin denounced the transaction and said the US supplying Ukraine with Patriot missile systems will prolong the Ukrainian people’s “suffering.”
The United States and other countries are always increasing the range and level of weaponry they supply to Ukraine, according to the Kremlin’s spokesman. It doesn’t contribute to a quick settlement of the situation.
There weren’t any real calls for peace, according to Peskov. But during his address to the US Congress on Wednesday, Zelensky did stress that “we need peace,” reiterating the 10-point plan devised by Ukraine.
The meeting showed that the US is engaged in a proxy war with Russia, according to Peskov.
The Yale Children’s War Crime Report: Missing Children in Russia and the First Russian Social Media Posts from Donetsk Oblast
Researchers at Yale say they have verified at least 6,000 Ukrainian children who are held in Russian jails. 43 camps are identified in the report. “Eleven of the camps are located more than 500 miles from Ukraine’s border with Russia, including two camps in Siberia and one in Russia’s Far East,” according to the report.
“This is not one camp that is going to be a rogue camp,” said Raymond, who is the executive director of the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab. It is not an accident that this massive logistical undertaking happens.
“The Russian government needs to legitimize its activities, that make all of this seem normal,” she says, “because you simply can’t move these many children through these many places without their movements being noticed.”
“In some cases there is adoption, other cases summer camp programs where the kids were slated to return home and never did,” he says, “and in some cases they are re-education camps.”
Raymond says that the Yale report is the most detailed look at the program so far. He says it shows the scale, chain of command, and logistical complexity.
“These first transports of children in early February 2022 included a group of 500 purported orphans ‘evacuated’ from Donetsk Oblast by Russia. The reason given publicly at the time was the supposed threat of an offensive by the Ukrainian armed forces,” according to the report. Russian families adopted some of the Ukrainian children.
The Ukrainian government and U.N. senior human rights officials have expressed alarm over these activities since the beginning of the war.
The Yale researchers began investigating missing Ukrainian children when the first Russian social media posts appeared last year. The messaging began at about the time of Putin’s adoption announcement, says one of the Yale researchers. He asked not to be named to protect his work.
He believes that the first place we saw this was on Telegram and VK. Telegram is a popular service in Russia. VK is the Russian version of Facebook.
Yale Lab: Investigating Russian War Crimes with High-Resolution Satellite Images and Open Source Research – The Case of Crimea, Crimea and Siberia
The Yale Humanitarian Research lab combines open source and high-resolution satellite imagery to offer analysis of war crimes in real time.
There are about 20 researchers who scour social media posts, news reports, government announcements and Russian messaging services, looking for patterns and connections that otherwise might go unnoticed.
“You can see people. You can see the vehicles. He said you could see some activity. “There’s a very large amount of material related to the patriotic education that they undergo while they are in camps,” he added. He said the lessons were designed to teach loyalty to Russia and to promote Moscow’s version of the war.
“This operation is coordinated by the federal government of Russia and involves every level of government”, according to the report. Several dozen federal, regional and local politicians were identified by the Yale program as being politically justifying the program.
The Yale team are all young Internet sleuths who work to verify the data they dig up and document the steps needed to meet the exacting standards and protocols for trial.
Raymond describes the lab as a “cop shop” and a “cyber cop shop” with a chain of custody for the evidence. To understand the Lab’s role, he points to the TV show Law and Order.
“We are the Jerry Orbach, beat cop side,” he says, “Our job is to collect the evidence, digital evidence, and then how that comports or does not with the law.”
“We are showing that we can collect perishable evidence and make it actionable in ways that were previously impossible. In the past this scale of operation was only available to governments,” he says.
It is the future of war crimes investigations happening now at the Yale Lab, says Raymond, as civil society uses the same tools as governments, “at scale and at speed.”
The report was produced by the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab and is part of the State Department-backed Conflict Observatory. Evidence of Russian war crimes is being gathered by the Observatory.
It identified 43 facilities that are a part of the network, which “stretches from one end of Russia to the other,” including Russian-occupied Crimea, the “eastern Pacific Coast – closer to Alaska than it is to Moscow,” and Siberia, Raymond said.
The researchers have not seen proof that the children trained in these military camps are going to be sent into conflict.
Many children who are sent to camps with the consent of their parents are sent for an agreed period of days or weeks and returned to their parents once the original schedule has been completed, but in some cases the ability of parents to give meaningful consent may be questionable.
They are children who are not getting a lot of contact with their parents, or even intermittent contact with their parents, so it is critically important to realize that they are in harms way every single day.
The report said it “identified several dozen federal, regional, and local figures directly engaged in operating and politically justifying the program,” and “at least 12 of these individuals are not on U.S. and/or international sanction lists.”
Raymond noted that “we are not here today making the genocide conclusion, but we are saying that this system is consistent with the statutory basis in both the Rome Statute and the Genocide Convention in terms of the prohibition on transferring children from one group to another.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that “Russia’s system of forced relocation, reeducation and adoption of Ukraine’s children is a key element of the Kremlin’s systematic efforts to deny and suppress Ukraine’s identity, its history and its culture.”
The US State Department said in a media note that “the unlawful transfer and deportation of protected persons is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians and constitutes a war crime.”