The Day After the War: Digital Evidence of Russian War Crimes

A Ukrainian soldiers stands in the rumble of Bucha, one of many Russian war crime sites.

One important fighter in the war in Ukraine: digital media. Since the start of the invasion, Ukrainians have been documenting what they’ve witnessed, uploading it to social media and NGOs. Additionally, satellite images appear to directly contradict the Kremlin propaganda of denying these atrocities even happened. 

“High-resolution Maxar satellite imagery collected over Bucha, Ukraine (northwest of Kyiv) verifies and corroborates recent social media videos and photos that reveal bodies lying in the streets and left out in the open for weeks,” Maxar Technologies, a satellite company, said in a public statement.

Nonprofits like WITNESS encourage civilians to film from safety when possible. And making sure to capture intentionality is key. 

“It’s not whether an individual soldier did something terrible – we clearly know that there are individual soldiers who may be committing terrible acts,” Programme Director, said Sam Gregory.

“How do you know that this was linked to an action of command, or that the commander knew this was happening and didn’t do anything, or in fact ordered it?”

Other nonprofits, like Amnesty International’s Evidence Lab, tries to prove that certain attacks were intentional civilian targets, not just collateral damage. 

“We’ve seen a lot of propaganda and a lot of claims around what these videos are and are not. We’re really trying to focus on the evidence and not necessarily to prove or disprove wild claims,” said Milena Marin, Head of Amnesty International’s Evidence Lab.

“Obviously, we believe it’s a massive distraction and we should focus on the evidence and what really happened” rather than chasing such claims [of Russian deniability], Marin said.

Already, Russian soldiers have received harsh sentences for war crimes in Ukraine, mostly for civilian executions, including shooting a 62-year-old man riding a bicycle, and purposefully shelling civilian targets, like an educational building and community center.

There have allegedly been talks at ICC about publically charging Russia with war crimes by the end of the year, or early 2023 (until now, war crimes charges against Russian soldiers have taken place in Ukraine). Separately, the Ukraine government and the ICC have allegedly been in talks to return a Russian POW to The Hague on the condition of them testifying against Russian commanders. 

The day after the war, Russia will have to answer for its crimes against humanity. No matter the outcome, no matter the falsely-justified image Moscow projects to its own citizens, these crimes are well-documented, with the world as their witness.

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