Local resident Oksana points to her apartment in a heavily damaged apartment building in Chernihiv, Ukraine. Chernihiv, northeast of Kyiv, was an early target of Russia's offensive and while they failed to capture the city, Russian forces battered large parts of Chernihiv and the surrounding region in their attempted advance toward the capital.
Local resident Oksana points to her apartment in a heavily damaged apartment building in Chernihiv, Ukraine. Chernihiv, northeast of Kyiv, was an early target of Russia's offensive and while they failed to capture the city, Russian forces battered large parts of Chernihiv and the surrounding region in their attempted advance toward the capital. © Alexey Furman/Getty Images

Justice Processes in Chernihiv

Pre-trial investigations are currently ongoing into some 250 war crimes proceedings.

Tuesday, 26 September, 2023

The Russian occupation of parts of the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine began with the start of the full-scale invasion of February 24, 2022, as their forces attempted to move towards the capital Kyiv. When Russian troops finally left the region on April 2, the Ukrainian security services were able to start investigating the numerous war crimes committed during the occupation. Oleksiy Lyakh, head of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Chernihiv region, gave an overview of the current state of investigations and justice processes to IWPR’s Olga Golovina.

What is the scale of war crimes justice processes ongoing in Chernihiv Oblast?

Documenting the war crimes committed by the Russian army in the Chernihiv region and collecting a substantiated evidence base is an important task for the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU)  in order to bring to justice both specific perpetrators and the higher military and political leadership of the Russian Federation. We are going through all the necessary legal stages so that Russian criminals are held accountable for what they have done, including before an international tribunal. SBU investigators in the Chernihiv region are currently conducting pre-trial investigations in more than 250 criminal proceedings under Article 438 (violation of the laws and customs of war) of the criminal code of Ukraine. Most of them are multi-episode, that is, they combine several crimes.

Unfortunately, this number of criminal proceedings is not final, given the regular shelling of the border areas by the Russian Federation and the revelation of new facts and circumstances of war crimes. Some of the proceedings are under consideration in the courts; in some cases verdicts have already been passed.

Do people come forward themselves with information about crimes, and how do you work with such a large number of victims? 

Residents who suffered from Russian aggression continue to contact law enforcement agencies regarding the events in the region in February-March 2022. All of them are considered in accordance with the procedure established by law and, if necessary, supplement existing criminal proceedings or contribute to the opening of new ones.

Almost the entire investigative department of the Security Service of Ukraine is involved in the investigation of crimes in the Russian Federation. SBU investigators have already completed a colossal amount of work and the work does not stop.

One of the most high-profile war crimes committed by the Russian Federation in the Chernihiv region was the forced detention of residents of the village of Yagidne in the basement of the school in March 2022. The enemy used civilians as human shields to avoid the strikes of the Armed Forces in response to enemy shelling and combat operations.
In the course of the investigation, physical evidence and documents were collected and examined, victims and witnesses were interviewed. As a result of these procedural actions, 318 people were recognised as victims, 54 of them minors. It was established that ten civilians died in the basement due to the impossibility of receiving proper medical care in time.

Today, SBU investigators are reviving their work with the victims, in particular, they are identifying Russian war crimes from photographs. In this way, the identities of the commanders who directed the actions of the Russian military personnel on the territory of the village were established. Fifteen servicemen of military unit 55115 of the Russian Federation have already been charged in absentia for the crimes they committed in the village of Yagidne. The pre-trial investigation is ongoing to identify all the occupiers involved.

War crimes do not have a statute of limitations, and the SBU works around the clock to gather a high-quality evidence base and ensure that every criminal receives their well-deserved punishment.

How does physical evidence help investigators in identifying persons involved in the commission of war crimes?

Regarding physical evidence left by the occupiers, which investigators find in the liberated territories, it should be noted that a significant part of these documents belonged to Russian servicemen who died in battle. They help not only to establish a specific person, but also the military unit that was stationed in the given territory, its senior management, etc. In this way, investigators establish the entire chain of criminals: both the one who gives criminal orders and those who carry them out. The study of documents left by Russians is only one of the methods of systematisation by the Security Service of Ukraine of a large array of data for the identification of military personnel of the Russian Federation who are in one or another region of Ukraine.

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