Walentyna Sen was shot by the Russian occupiers in the yard of her house. The body of the 69-year-old pensioner lay there for six days until the Ukrainian army liberated the Kiev suburb of Bucha on March 31, 2022.
Daughter Tetjana stayed with her mother for the first few weeks after the Russian invasion. But a day before her murder, Tetyana and her child were taken to the nearby capital. Valentina didn’t want to go.
“My mother bled to death”
The neighbors saw what happened to Walentyna Sen. She went to fetch water on Sklosavodska Street, of all places, where the Russian soldiers were standing at the time. They came to Walentyna’s yard that same day and just fired.
“They killed at least two people in the courtyards every day,” reports Tetjana. “My mother was on the phone when she saw the Russians and heard shots. She ran out of fear and made it inside, but a bullet hit her through the door and pierced her liver. My mother bled to death.” She learned all this from her neighbors.
A year after her mother’s murder, Tetjana has not yet been questioned by investigators. The family also does not know whether any proceedings were initiated at all. Tetjana’s son was interviewed only once, in April 2022. He found his grandmother dead after the Ukrainian army entered Bucha. He later buried Walentyna in the village with his own hands.
Shooting in the forest
The same thing happened last year to Serhiy from Bucha. His father, Oleksandr Yaremych, was killed by the Russians on March 25, shortly before the liberation of the Kiev region. He had distributed food to citizens of Bucha not far from Russian checkpoints. Eight of his friends were shot dead earlier this month on Jablunska Street. Oleksandr died two weeks later after a house search.
The Russian military found a mobile phone on his father, Serhiy reports. Shortly before, Oleksandr had used it to make a phone call. After the search, the Russians took his father into the forest and shot him there.
A criminal case for murder was officially opened. For a year, Serhiy tried to contact the authorities to find out about the status of the investigation. But first an exhumation and taking of evidence had been carried out. And after a few months, the investigator changed, says Serhiy. Only recently was he finally questioned.
“It’s going slowly, but there’s progress. They report what they’ve done. They say what the next step is. It’s a long process. I don’t think it will be completed in a year,” Serhiy said firmly.
Lots of war crimes data
The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine counts nearly 11,000 war crimes committed by the Russian army in the Kiev region alone. Of these, 700 were registered in Bucha. There are already more than 7000 criminal cases, 118 suspects and 50 people have been tried in absentia, four of whom have been convicted.
Last year, according to the regional prosecutor’s office of Kiev, investigators from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) with the support of the police investigated the liberated area. Exhumations were carried out there and evidence collected for the ongoing proceedings. Volunteers helped the investigators – and so a large amount of data on war crimes was collected.
The investigations are also so lengthy because the perpetrators are so difficult to identify, the prosecutors report. And arrests are actually impossible. “The main goal in this phase of the investigation is to collect testimonies and a full body of evidence. Often, by interrogating Russian prisoners of war, it is possible to establish the identity of one or another war criminal,” says Oleh Tkalenko, deputy head of the prosecutor’s office in the Kyiv region. Prisoners of war would know the names of perpetrators, who often brag about how many civilians they killed, tortured or abused.
Despite lengthy investigations and fragmented evidence, prosecutors plan to try many suspects and obtain verdicts this year, Tkalenko adds. “After that, the person in question will be on an international wanted list. Ukraine has signed a number of international legal agreements on the extradition of such criminals. We hope that some of them will be arrested abroad and brought here to serve their sentences during the war serve. After our victory we will find everyone else.”
In addition to the investigations within Ukraine, more than 20 countries around the world have now initiated proceedings for Russian war crimes within the framework of their national legislation. Recently, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants against Russian President Vladimir Putin and Child Rights Commissioner Maria Lwova-Belowa on suspicion of kidnapping Ukrainian children to Russia.
Adaptation from the Ukrainian: Markian Ostapchuk