Genocide – the highest crime: has it occurred in Ukraine?
Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine has killed thousands of civilians, displaced millions, and destroyed much of Ukraine’s infrastructure. This war is not one of symmetry. The Russian army outnumbers, outpowers, and out possesses the Ukrainians. They have bigger bombs, more planes, and the advantage of being on offence. This, however, has not stopped Ukrainians from standing up and doing everything to protect their country. As the war has prolonged and Russia has not advanced as quickly as anticipated, they have begun to commit atrocities and war crimes. Three prime examples are; the trial of a Russian Soldier who unprovokedly killed an unarmed civilian, the attack on a hospital in Mariupol and the Bucha massacre. As written in Foreign Affairs, Oona Hathaway says, “over the last three months, Russian troops have killed thousands of civilians and laid waste to cities in Ukraine. As Ukrainian forces have begun retaking towns from Russian occupying forces, they have discovered mass graves and widespread evidence of other atrocities.” (Hathaway, May 2022). Many international organizations, such as Amnesty International, have investigated and classified Russia’s actions as war crimes. Only time will tell the legal ramifications for Russia’s military and political elite. Still, for now, millions of Ukrainians are suffering at the hands of Russia’s unjustifiable and horrendous actions.
Genocide is defined as “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” (Wright, 2022) This includes; “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (Wright, 2022) Although US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, amongst other politicians, have labelled Russia’s actions genocide, there is no international consensus on it. In a lengthy excerpt from the BBC, Eugene Finkel, an associate professor of international affairs at Johns Hopkins University, thinks genocide is currently
occurring in Ukraine.
He says: Evidence of killings, carried out in Bucha and other places, of people based on their Ukrainian identity. “It’s not just killing people; it’s targeting a national identity group,” he says. However, the rhetoric coming from Moscow tips over into genocidal intent, Mr.Finkel says. He points to an article titled “What should Russia do with Ukraine?” published last week by Russia’s state-owned media Ria news agency. The article argues that Ukraine “is impossible as a nation-state” and even its name “apparently cannot be retained”; the Ukrainian nationalist elite “need to be liquidated, its re-education is impossible,” argues the article’s writer, Timofei Sergeytsev. He bases his theory on the baseless claim that Ukraine is a Nazi state, arguing that a significant section of the population is guilty too because they are “passive Nazis” and, therefore, accomplices. After a Russian victory, these people would require re-education lasting at least a generation, and it would “inevitably mean de-Ukrainisation.”” For me, the shift in tone in recent weeks in Russia, and especially among the elites, was the tipping point that we call the threshold of intent, not just to destroy the state… but to destroy an identity,” says Prof Finkel.” The goal of the war is de-Ukrainisation. they are not focusing on the state, they’re focusing on Ukrainians.”
Although professor Finkel strongly believes genocide is occurring, others disagree. Jonathan Leader Maynard, lecturer in international politics at King’s College London, says there is not yet enough evidence under the Genocide Convention to determine whether or not it is ongoing in Ukraine. According to Maynard, “that doesn’t necessarily mean genocide is not taking place – he says it’s “very clear” that atrocities are happening – just that the bar has yet to be cleared. “It’s possible that those atrocities could be genocidal or could escalate in future to genocide, but the evidence is not strong enough yet.” (Wright, 2022)
Genocide debate aside, there are plenty of examples of war crimes and other atrocities by Russia during the war. The Bucha Massacre, which President Zelensky called the worst atrocity since World War II, left over 1000 civilians dead, of which 31 were children. Young girls were raped, bodies were burnt, and evidence of torture chambers was found. On top of this, bodies were found with flechettes embedded in them, a metal projectile, which is considered a violation of humanitarian law. (Tondo and Gibson, 2022) Russia denies this attack ever took place, saying it was a “fake attack.” Moreover, they have blamed western media and said after launching their own “investigation” that Ukraine had planned a “deliberately false attack.” (Reuters, 2022)
Another example of an unspeakable atrocity is in March; a Russian airstrike destroyed a children’s hospital and maternity ward in Mariupol. President Zelenskiy called the attack “the ultimate evidence of genocide,” adding that children were buried under rubble. At the same time, the regional governor said 17 people have been wounded. “A children’s hospital, a maternity ward. How did they threaten the Russian Federation?” Zelensky added. (The Guardian, 2022)
Ukraine, through legal means, tried a Russian soldier for killing an unarmed civilian. The Russian soldier pleaded guilty to the unjustified killing but stated he was following orders. According to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office, the soldier “fired several shots through the open window of the car with a Kalashnikov rifle into the head of the victim,” according to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office. “The man died at the scene just a few dozen meters from his home.” (Kuznetsov, 2022)
Although these are just a few examples, many more atrocities have occurred and will continue to happen. Russia has proved to be a lethal force that disregards the lives of civilians and blames western media and Ukraine for spreading false information.
Faulconbridge, Guy. “Russia denies killing civilians in Ukraine’s Bucha.” Reuters, 3 April 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-denies-killing-civilians-ukraines-bucha-202
Accessed 16 June 2022.
Kuznetsov, Sergei. “Russian soldier sentenced to life in prison for killing Ukrainian civilian.” POLITICO, 23 May 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/russian-soldier-sentenced-to-life-in-prison-for-killing-ukra inian-civilian/.
Accessed 16 June 2022.
Lock, Samantha, et al. “Strike on children’s hospital ‘ultimate evidence that genocide is happening’ – as it happened.” The Guardian, 9 March 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2022/mar/09/ukraine-news-russia-war-ceasefirebroken-humanitarian-corridors-kyiv-russian-invasion-live-vladimir-putin-volodymyr-zele nskiy-latest-updates?CMP=share_btn_tw.
Accessed 16 June 2022.
Tondo, Lorenzo, and Neil Gibson. “Dozens of Bucha civilians were killed by metal darts from Russian artillery.” The Guardian, 24 April 2022,
Accessed 16 June 2022.
Wright, George. “Ukraine war: Is Russia committing genocide?” BBC, 13 April 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61017352.