Attacks on Infrastructure in Odesa

Regional prosecutor's office prepares cases on what it alleges is the systematic destruction of essential facilities.

Attacks on Infrastructure in Odesa

Regional prosecutor's office prepares cases on what it alleges is the systematic destruction of essential facilities.

Anti-tank hedgehogs barricades in central Odesa.
Anti-tank hedgehogs barricades in central Odesa. © A. Borden/IWPR
Tuesday, 28 February, 2023

At dawn on April 3, 2022, several powerful explosions struck Odesa, sending up red tongues of flame into the sky across the city. 

Russian cruise missiles had hit an oil storage and refinery, destroying fuel tanks alongside communications and civil infrastructure. Although no one was killed, the shock wave shattered the glass in the windows of nearby houses and damaged buildings.

"My husband and I woke up because of the air alarm signal, and literally a few minutes later we heard four explosions in a row,” recalled Odesa resident Olha. “I immediately jumped into the kitchen and hid… I heard three more powerful explosions, volley after volley. And when everything calmed down, we saw thick black smoke and realised that the oil depot had been destroyed.”

Prosecutors in the strategic port city are preparing a number of war crimes cases against Russia for attacking critical and civilian infrastructure, as well as causing considerable damage to the environment. 

Local law enforcement officers are undergoing training in how to collect evidence that will be admissible in both national and international courts, while legal experts are calling for specialised courts to deal with the expected wave of cases. 

Odesa region prosecutor Serhii Kostenko said that more than 2,400 fragments of rockets, bombs and shells - including cluster bombs prohibited by international conventions - had been recovered from various sites hit during the first nine months of the war. Investigators recorded 111 missiles hitting critical and civilian infrastructure. 

Following the attack on the oil depot, the prosecutor general's office opened criminal proceedings under part 1 of Article 438 of the criminal code of Ukraine on the violation of the laws and customs of war. The Odesa regional prosecutor's office emphasised that there were no military facilities on the territory of the plant and warehouses.

Pre-trial investigations were ongoing into the oil refinery strike and one on a railway bridge in the village of Zatoka, “based on the results of which a decision will be made in accordance with the requirements of the current legislation of Ukraine," the office said in an additional statement.

The regional airport, the state-owned Odesa oil refinery and private fuel enterprises, seven power stations and the Odesa port plant were among the facilities that suffered significant damage.

Investigators are also considering the environmental impact, given that the oil depot facilities burned for two days and a large number of harmful substances were released into the air, settling on the ground and seeping into the water supply. 

After the full-scale invasion, the ministry of environmental protection and natural resources developed a methodology for studying damage caused to the land.

"The facts of soil pollution and land pollution are established by specialists of the state environmental inspectorate of Ukraine through inspection of the land plots, the analysis of remote land sensing data, received soil samples research, the processing of expert opinions, the explanations, references, documents, materials, information, as well as operational reports from physical and legal entities persons,” said Ruslan Strilets, an environmental protection minister.

“The copies of damage calculations are provided to the state authorities, local self-government, and law enforcement agencies for the formation of case files, representation of state interests, and forced compensation for damage caused to the environment as a result of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation.”

The Odesa prosecutor's office said that local law enforcement officers were undergoing specialist training in order to investigate such crimes correctly, including in communications, taking samples and data management. 

"This is a completely new direction of work for us,” Kostenko noted. “We had never faced this before, so it was very important to learn how to properly investigate these criminal cases, because these materials will be used not only in national courts but also in international ones. And the level of proof requirements that exist at the International Criminal Court must be met by all standards in order for our position to be fully proven." 

Oleksandr Harskyi, a judge of the Malinovskiy district court of Odesa, argued that separate and specialised courts should be created to deal with crimes involving attacks on civil or critical infrastructure. 

Prosecutors also needed training in how to build an evidentiary base in these types of offences, he continued, noting that “this category of cases requires a specific collection of evidence and proof in general”.

“The main thing will be what the prosecution collects, what the evidence will be,” he said. “For us judges, this is a key factor, because we consider what the pretrial investigation gives us, that is, we are limited by the indictment. Yes, war crimes cases may have similar circumstances, but with completely different evidence or nuances.”

Judges also needed to learn new skills, Harskyi said, adding that he believed that many would be willing to retrain given the current demands on the justice system.

“Ordinary judges can [get things] wrong, and that’s not because they are biased or incompetent, but because they don't fully understand the military statute, the relations between servicemen, and the probability of circumstances. That is, it will be difficult for them to reproduce certain events in their heads and to understand whether such a thing could happen at all. 

Lastly, he said that time was of the essence to deliver justice, noting that under ordinary circumstances trials could last for years. Currently in Ukraine there are hundreds or even thousands of criminal cases about serious crimes such as murder and robbery that have been pending for years.

Harskyi said that an expedited process for war crimes would be key to dealing with the impact of the conflict on Odesa, concluding, "A crime has occurred - it’s necessary to hold a meeting quickly, prove it and put an end to it so that it doesn't last, as with general cases, for months or years.”

Please take a minute to complete a short survey. For any further feedback email us at

Frontline Updates
Support local journalists