By Vincent Lyn
“Today the world has to see what the Russian army has left behind. More than 400 graves in the forest near Izyum. We still don’t know exactly how many bodies are there… Russia has already become the biggest source of terrorism in the world. No other terrorist force leaves behind so many deaths. This must be established legally. The world must act. It is necessary to recognize Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.” — President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskky
A big aspect of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is the horrendous impact on civilians, including indiscriminate shelling of civilian infrastructure, weaponizing rape, the mass deportation of Ukrainians into Russian territory, and other actions matching the legal definition of genocide.
According to a September 13, 2022, resolution in the European Union Parliament, focusing on the deportation of children into Russia, these are among the war crimes Russia is actively committing:
- The forced deportation of Ukrainian civilians, especially children, as a direct consequence of Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine.
- Article II of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide covers the forcible transfer of children from the targeted group (in this case Ukraine) to another group (in this case Russia), with the intent to destroy the targeted culture, which constitutes genocide.
- Approximately 1.6 million Ukrainians, including 250,000 children, have been forcibly evacuated from Ukraine into Russia. Some of the children, at least 2,500, were abducted from orphanages. Further, Russia has systematically eradicated personal records.
- Over 200,000 Ukrainian children are missing, with at least 5,600 having been identified and reported to have been deported to Russia.
- The United Nations has confirmed allegations that the Russian Federation has deported children from Ukraine to Russia for the purpose of forced adoption.
The resolution contains many more details, which add up to a systematic program meant to depopulate Ukraine. Other Russian actions in Ukraine have resulted in millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing to other parts of the world. In fact the situation in Ukraine is so dire that it is changing by the hour. As of September 13, 2022, the total number of refugees fleeing Ukraine reached over 12.3 million people. More than 1/4 the population.
In the U.N. Convention on Genocide, such actions are tied to the intention to destroy a culture. The pattern is too induce a population to leave so that the attacking country (Russia) can replace those people with its own citizens.
In eight months, Putin has made Ukraine one nation, Europe unified, took away Europe’s addiction to gas, destroyed his coalition, destroyed his army, destroyed the middle class, made Russia a dictatorship, and all he had to do to do this was destroy his army and kill tens of thousands of innocent Ukrainians and it appears that Putin murdered at least 100,000 people in Ukraine and Russia for nothing. However, the damage doesn’t end there.
445 dead bodies of Ukrainians have been exhumed from a forest near the town of Izyum. Some must have been prisoners of war, but there were civilians, too. Many had signs of extreme torture such as broken bones, multiple injuries, hands tied behind their backs, ropes around their necks. Many had been shot.Graphic photographs of the exhumation appeared in some media outlets but the ‘tasteful’ international newspapers, as usual, avoided showing dead rotting flesh and broken bones. Why make the war seem real, it could alienate their readers. Many Western papers didn’t even bother putting the massacre of Izyum on their front pages.
I realize that this is mere human psychology; after nearly eight months of war, Westerners are bored. Unlike the photographs that emerged from the massacre of Bucha months ago, there seems to be less humanity in the pictures from Izyum: no close-ups of painted red fingernails, no bicycle lying next to the victim. Some of the bodies have been buried for a while and appear faceless, dried up collateral damage. And of course, 445 dead strangers in a land far, far away means far less to an average American, than the death of the most familiar figure in the world, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II even though in reality she was just as much of a stranger to them as those 445.
Having been to Ukraine and establishing friends and comrades in arms I am overcome with emotion reading the recent news. And though I did not know any of these people, but their last horrific days and hours are as raw for me as the news of the first Ukrainian casualty. Their courage and bravery is a testament to why I keep on in the fight to help in anyway I can. Part of me even wishes I was back there to bear witness and document the horror in full as I have done in Bucha and Irpen.
In reality there isn’t much that an average American can do about this war. There wasn’t much that you could even do about the last war in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan. Before you go back to your daily chores and resume your normal life after reading this just take a brief moment and stop and realize how damn fortunate you are. Most of us in the western world take life for granted. But it’s news like below that should make you realize it.
“Amidst the positive news coming from Ukraine in recent days, spare a thought for those whose loved ones will never return. My guest received the news which she had been dreading today — her only son had been killed. So, so sad.”
What makes war real for people? When the war in Iraq began, there were millions of Americans out in the streets, protesting. As it dragged on for years, they moved on; ordinary life took over. Even as American troops and the war machine continued being sent to the front line, there was no daily reality of the Iraq war anywhere on the streets of New York City or Washington DC except some weekends when an ever-diminishing group of protesters would gather.
Even in Russia itself, in the regions like Tuva and Buryatia which, largely due to their extreme poverty, have the highest percentage of military recruits in the country and have therefore been hit the hardest in terms of casualties, this war doesn’t seem to have fully sunk in. As dead servicemen travel back to their hometowns for the last time, as young recruits disappear without trace (deceased, wounded, defected?), life in these regions somehow carries on mostly as normal. How is that possible?
What would it take for this war to become real for us? To stand there, in that Ukrainian forest, hands tied, limbs broken, waiting to be shot in the back of our heads? Or perhaps, instead, we should consider ourselves lucky that we don’t care? “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change” et cetera et cetera.
I, for one, cannot accept.
CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children
Deputy Ambassador of International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Editor in Chief at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts