Russian forces gunned down a 14-year-old boy playing soccer and two teen brothers out for a walk after they seized control of villages in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions in the early weeks of the war, a new investigation reveals.
The teens were just a few of the victims of what Human Rights Watch has described as Russia’s “abhorrent, unlawful, and cruel” campaign against civilians from late February through March. Having interviewed dozens of survivors, the human-rights group on Tuesday revealed new “evident war crimes” that it says must immediately be investigated.
Survivors from the village of Yahidne recalled Russian soldiers holding more than 350 residents hostage in a school basement for 28 days, under such abysmal conditions that many of those who lived through the ordeal were still hospitalized in mid-April for conditions they developed during their time in captivity.
Seventy of those trapped in the basement were children, five of them babies, survivors said.
“After a week, everyone was coughing violently. Almost all the children had high fevers, spasms from coughing, and would throw up,” one survivor was quoted saying, noting that detainees were deprived of food for the first several days.
Ten of the older hostages are said to have died during their weeks in captivity.
In other cases, survivors recalled Russian troops searching for any excuse to kill villagers, and then executing them even if they didn’t find one.
Anastasia Andriivna, 66, a survivor from Andriivka, told Human Rights Watch her 45-year-old son had been murdered after Russian forces found a military overcoat from his time in the National Guard in 1993.
She found his body in a barn after Russian forces withdrew. “He was lying there in a fetal position, with his hands tucked under his head, and his jacket draped over his shoulders. He had been shot in the ear, with blood covering his face,” she was quoted saying.
In the village of Mokhnatyn in the Chernihiv region, a passing Russian convoy gunned down two 17-year-old twin brothers, Yevhen and Bohdan Samodiy, along with their 18-year-old friend, Valentin Yakimchuk, according to the report.
In the village of Nova Basan, 14-year-old Dmytro Solovei was simply kicking around a soccer ball on a playground when Russian forces shot him dead. His older brother was then shot as he tried to recover his sibling’s body.
Perhaps most disturbing of all, Russian troops appeared to be under orders to carry out indiscriminate executions. One survivor, a resident of Novyi Bykiv, told investigators that Russian soldiers who held him and several others hostage said they had orders to kill eight detainees and asked for “volunteers.”
When no one came forward, they picked eight men at random.
Human Rights Watch also documented instances of enforced disappearances and torture. The Kremlin has repeatedly claimed its troops are only targeting military sites and avoiding aggression against civilians, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The International Criminal Court sent its largest-ever team of investigators to Ukraine earlier this week to probe hundreds of cases of alleged war crimes.