Russia has committed host of war crimes in Ukraine, UN-backed investigation finds

Poland says it has broken up Russian spy network that sought to sabotage arms supplies to Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers firing a 120mm mortar from outside Chasiv Yar toward Russian positions near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. Photograph: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Russia has committed a host of war crimes in Ukraine, a United Nations-backed investigation has found, accusing it of murder, rape, torture, deportation of civilians – including many children – and wilful destruction of critical infrastructure.

As the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine released its report on Thursday, Poland said it had broken up a Russian spy network that sought to sabotage arms supplies to Ukraine. Poland also pledged to start delivering fighter jets to Kyiv in the coming days.

“The war crimes include attacks on civilians and energy-related infrastructure, wilful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape and other sexual violence, as well as unlawful transfers and deportations of children,” the report said.

After visiting dozens of locations around Ukraine and interviewing almost 600 people, the commission recommended that “all violations and crimes be investigated and those responsible be held accountable, either at the national or the international level”.

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The report documents how Russian troops beat and tortured Ukrainian civilians and subjected some to electrocution by connecting them to a field telephone and turning on the current: “The perpetrators referred to this as ‘call to Lenin’ or ‘call to Putin’,” in reference to Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“Rapes were committed at gunpoint, with extreme brutality and with acts of torture, such as beatings and strangling ... Perpetrators also, in some instances, executed or tortured husbands and other male relatives. Family members, including children, were sometimes forced to watch perpetrators rape their loved ones,” the commission said.

Its report also addressed Russia’s repeated missile attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid throughout the winter, saying that they “led to entire regions and millions of people being left for periods without electricity or heating” and “may amount to crimes against humanity”.

Ukraine and some Western allies say Russia’s invasion is an act of genocide; Erik Mose, the head of the commission, said it had not reached that conclusion but noted “some aspects which may raise questions” about possible genocide.

Russia denies committing atrocities during an all-out attack on Ukraine that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

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Polish interior minister Mariusz Kaminski said six detainees had been charged with conducting “espionage for Russia and participation in an organised criminal group”, and three other people were still under investigation. He said they were all “from over the eastern border”, which Polish media took to mean Russia or its ally Belarus.

“Evidence shows that this group monitored railway routes. Its tasks included identifying, monitoring and documenting transport carrying weapons for Ukraine. The suspects were also preparing acts of sabotage aimed at paralysing the supply of equipment, weapons and aid to Ukraine,” Mr Kaminski added.

He said the suspects were “regularly paid by the Russian special services” and had “cameras, electronic equipment, as well as GPS transmitters which were to be mounted on transport carrying aid for Ukraine”.

Polish media said the suspects installed cameras close to Rzeszow airport, just 90km from Ukraine, which is a major conduit for arms supplies to the country and was used by US presidential jet Air Force One when Joe Biden visited Poland and Ukraine last month.

Polish president Andrzej Duda said on Thursday that his country would soon become the first Nato state to deliver warplanes to Ukraine – though they will be Soviet-era MiG-29 jets rather than the modern Western fighters that Kyiv has requested from allies. “In the coming days we are handing over four aircraft in full working order,” he said, adding that several others were now “being serviced” before delivery.

Ukrainian pilots fly MiG-29s and should be able to use Polish planes immediately, whereas extensive training would be required on Western fighter jets.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe