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Another Russian War Crime and the Question of Genocide

Russia’s attack on a crowded market in Kostiantynivka was the latest in a long line of mass casualty strikes that have been inflicted on Ukrainian citizens

An attack on the food market in Kostiantynivka on 6 September 2023. Photo: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP/Alamy

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Russia yesterday carried out yet another war crime against the state and people of Ukraine, when it blasted a powerful $1 million S–300 rocket into a crowded market place in Kostiantynivka in the Donetsk region, killing at least 16 people and wounding another 35.

The deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime. But this heinous act was not an isolated event – it is the latest in a long line of mass casualty strikes that have been inflicted on Ukrainian citizens during the course of 18 months of the full-scale war.

In some cases, the precise numbers of killed or wounded cannot be determined. The largest single death toll stands at approximately 600 and occurred in the now destroyed city of Mariupol last March, when a drama theatre that was being used as a bomb shelter was the target of a Russian bomb even though the word ‘CHILDREN’ had been painted on the tarmac of the parking lot.

Many other instances can be recalled. The 37 people were killed in an attack on the southern port city of Mykolaiv last March. The attack on the city of Kramatosk last April. The assault on Bilohorivka the following month. The 46 people were killed in a broad daylight strike on the city of Dnipro in January. The 23 people were killed in the city of Uman this April.

That list is far from exhaustive. Those war crimes and others, such as the execution of civilians in occupied areas and the deliberate targeting of energy facilities in the winter bombing campaign, will all – one day – be judged and the culprits will face a reckoning. But what about the larger accusation that Russia is engaged in the genocide of Ukrainian citizens?

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Genocide is a very specific act with very specific definitions and criteria. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly approved and ratified the following definitions of genocide:

“Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of that group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

If we examine each of these points, and look not only at the deeds carried out that match those definitions but also at the propaganda poisoning the minds of the Russian population on a daily basis, we can conclude that Russia is carrying out a genocidal war.

While diverse in ethnicity, race and religion, Ukrainians are a national group based on the fact of the statehood that Russia so clearly despises and seeks to terminate.

Killing members of the group is not only evident in the pattern of atrocities listed earlier, but it is also something that is widely applauded by Russian social media users, in concert, after each and every mass killing.

Taking just one example from the list of mass killing, the strike on Kramatorsk that killed 61 people last April also resulted in 121 casualties. The extent of bodily harm is not only in the documented statistics, it is seen in the tens of thousands of amputees Ukraine is rehabilitating. The mental harm being caused can be seen in the numbers of people seeking support from the charity that I run, Lifeline Ukraine. As the national suicide prevention hotline, we have seen our monthly volume of calls surge from 1,000 per month before the all-out war, to as many as nearly 6,000 per month in the spring of 2023.

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The attempt to destroy Ukraine’s national power grid and energy generation capacity was just that. Winters are cold in Ukraine, and Russia’s actions resulted in homes of elderly people being unheated. That was, again, not only a deliberate act from but it was also again cheered on by many ordinary Russian citizens.

As many as 93,000 cases alleging sexual violence have been filed with authorities in Ukraine, and victims of these horrific ordeals have also turned to Lifeline Ukraine for support. Many say they do not want to live as a result of what was done to them at the hands of the Russian occupation forces.

Testimonies published in various newspapers speak of victims being told by their rapists that they wanted to damage them to the extent that they would never be able to bear children. One victim had window sealant injected into her vagina to make her sterile. Another was told that they wanted her to get pregnant so that she would give birth to Russian, not Ukrainian, offspring.

Then there is the implementation of the state-directed programme to remove children from Ukraine and indoctrinate them into the Russian mindset through forced ‘re-education’. The fact that this is the charge that the International Criminal Court in The Hague levelled against Vladimir Putin is a clear indication that, not only is there sufficient evidence of this practice and that it is sanctioned from the very top of the Russian regime, but that at some point the crime of genocide will also be brought.

That day, when Putin and his accomplices are charged with genocide, cannot come soon enough.

Paul Niland is an Irish journalist based in Ukraine. He is the founder of the country’s national suicide prevention hotline, Lifeline Ukraine

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