KYIV, Ukraine — The United Nations has detailed extrajudicial killings by the Russian Army during the first month of the war that it described as likely war crimes, releasing a report on Wednesday that offered a harrowing, fine-grained examination of the risks to civilians in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
A report by 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, whose aim was to document war crimes and assist future prosecutions, 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.
“There are strong indications that the summary executions documented in the report constitute the war crime of willful killing,” the U.N. human rights commissioner, Volker Türk, said in a statement. “The victims and survivors of these violations have a right to truth, justice and reparation — accountability must be ensured as soon as possible.”
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, the U.N. report noted, adding 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 said, “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 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. In other instances, 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 certain killings in grim detail. One woman hid in an apartment while gunshots were heard on the street, emerging 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.