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Russia’s invading forces are deliberately using rape, torture and kidnapping to try and sow terror among civilians in Ukraine, the top prosecutor in Ukraine told U.S. lawmakers in graphic testimony Wednesday.
Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said that nearly 80,000 cases of war crimes have been registered in Ukraine since the war began in February 2022.
Focusing on just one area of the country that has felt the brunt of the war, Kostin described some of the discoveries made when the Ukrainian military liberated Kherson last November. He said some 20 torture chambers were found and more than 1,000 survivors have reported an array of abuses, including the use of electric shocks, waterboarding, being forced to strip naked, and threats of mutilation and death.
Kostin said more than 60 cases of rape were documented in the Kherson region alone. In areas still controlled by Russian forces, residents, including children, are being forcefully relocated to other occupied territories or to Russia.
“Such evil cannot let be,” Kostin said.
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The House Foreign Affairs Committee invited Kostin to testify. The chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, believes that spotlighting the brutality of Russia’s actions will show lawmakers and voters why the United States is in the right in supporting Ukraine.
“This is happening right now. They are monsters and they need to be brought to justice,” McCaul said. He added: “These are more than war crimes. These are more than crimes against humanity. What we are witnessing in Ukraine is genocide.”
McCaul also issued a challenge to fellow lawmakers, saying “history will judge us by what we do here and now.”
“No country can remain neutral in the face of such evil,” McCaul said.
Congress approved about $113 billion in economic, humanitarian and military spending in 2022 to assist Ukraine. President Joe Biden has repeatedly said the United States will help Ukraine “as long as it takes” to repel the Russian invasion that began in late February of last year, though support for that aid has softened, polling shows.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin listens before testifying at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, on April 19, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Congressional leaders anticipate that Ukraine will need billions of dollars in additional assistance in the months ahead.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that he spoke by telephone with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and thanked him for bipartisan support from Congress. Zelenskyy also outlined the “situation at the front” and Ukraine’s “urgent defense needs in armored vehicles, artillery, air defense & aircraft.”
The House committee also heard from a war crimes survivor, a 57-year-old woman, who said she was taken to a torture chamber for five days, beaten, forced to strip and endured threats of rape and murder. At one point, she was forced to dig her own grave. She said her house was looted. She has escaped, but other Ukrainians still experience such treatment in Russian-controlled territories, she said.
“These terrible crimes need to be stopped,” she told lawmakers. Her identity was not revealed out of concerns about retribution.
Kostin said exposing atrocities is not enough.
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“Only with discovering and determining truth, bringing perpetrators to responsibility and providing adequate reoperations to victims and survivors, we can say justice has been done,” Kostin said.
The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant last month for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. But the practical implications are limited as the chances of Putin facing trial at the court are highly unlikely because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.