US Rebukes Russia for Crimes Against Humanity in Ukraine

The United States officially determined that Russia has committed "crimes against humanity" in Ukraine as the war nears its one-year anniversary, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said Saturday in a landmark speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Harris, a former prosecutor, laid out a detailed account of the egregious actions committed by Russia against Ukraine’s civilian population. The evidence, she said, included the scores of victims found in Bucha shortly after Russia’s invasion last February; the March 9 bombing of a Mariupol maternity hospital that killed three people, including a child; and the sexual assault of a 4-year-old by a Russian soldier that was identified in a United Nations report; and forcibly relocating and "re-educating" Ukrainian children.

She condemned these actions as ‘barbaric and inhumane’ and urged the world leaders gathered in Germany to support Ukraine for moral, humanitarian and strategic reasons.

The vice president said the U.S. will continue to assist Ukraine in further investigations of such alleged crimes.

"And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crime — and to their superiors who are complicit in these crimes — you will be held to account,’ Harris said.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris addresses participants at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany on Feb. 18, 2023. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris addresses participants at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany on Feb. 18, 2023.

Ukraine Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova hailed Harris’ declaration during an interview Saturday with Tatiana Vorozhko of VOA’s Ukrainian service.

"It’s very important, and we’re glad that the U.S. has been such a great partner not only in providing us with security, financial and humanitarian assistance but working with us really shoulder to shoulder in all the justice issues," she said.

"Whether it’s war crimes in Ukraine, whether it’s a crime of aggression, whether it’s the genocide and or other crimes that Russia committed in Ukraine, it’s very important for Ukraine to hold them accountable," she said. "But I think it’s very important for all of us — and this is what Madam Vice President clearly said — that they have to be held accountable for these horrible crimes. And it’s important for everyone who believes in the same values."

Report reveals how Ukrainian children were relocated

Separately, the Conflict Observatory, a program supported by the U.S. State Department, released an independent report detailing a vast network of Russia-run sites and processes used to relocate thousands of Ukraine’s children to areas under Russian government control.

"Mounting evidence of Russia’s actions lays bare the Kremlin’s aims to deny and suppress Ukraine’s identity, history, and culture," the statement reads. "The devastating impacts of Putin’s war on Ukraine’s children will be felt for generations. The United States will stand with Ukraine and pursue accountability for Russia’s appalling abuses for as long as it takes."

While "crimes against humanity" are not officially codified in an international treaty, they are still adjudicated in the International Criminal Court and by other global bodies, according to the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention.

"In contrast with genocide, crimes against humanity do not need to target a specific group," the U.N says. "Instead, the victim of the attack can be any civilian population, regardless of its affiliation or identity."

Ukrainian soldiers carry the body of Kostiantyn Kostiuk during his funeral in Borova, near Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 18, 2023. Kostiuk was a civilian who was a volunteer in the armed forces of Ukraine. He died Feb. 10, 2023, after being wounded in a battle against Russians. Ukrainian soldiers carry the body of Kostiantyn Kostiuk during his funeral in Borova, near Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 18, 2023. Kostiuk was a civilian who was a volunteer in the armed forces of Ukraine. He died Feb. 10, 2023, after being wounded in a battle against Russians.

’We must hold Russia accountable’

U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Shelley Moore Capito introduced a bipartisan resolution Friday, recognizing Russia’s war in Ukraine as genocide.

"Putin’s unprovoked invasion and terrible acts of war have amounted to a genocide against the Ukrainian people," Manchin said. "It is our responsibility as a world power and democratic leader to support our allies in times of need, and we must hold Russia accountable for its continued atrocities against Ukraine. Our bipartisan resolution is an important step toward recognizing the depths of Russia’s war crimes and reaffirming America’s commitment to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country from tyranny."

Ukrainian officials said they were investigating the shelling of Bakhmut this week as a possible war crime.

Bakhmut offensive

Ukrainian soldiers holding off a Russian offensive on the small eastern city are pleading for more weapons. Russian rockets and artillery struck a residential district in Bakhmut on Thursday, killing three men and two women and wounding nine, Ukraine’s prosecutor general said.

Russian troops have been trying to take Bakhmut for months; the city that once had 70,000 inhabitants is under constant shelling.

’If you are rational, law-abiding and patriotic citizens, you should leave the city immediately,’ said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. She made the appeal via the Telegram messaging app Friday, to an estimated 6,000 people still in the city, in the Donetsk region.

Munitions delivery

In his speech Saturday to the Munich Security Conference, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged world leaders to provide additional arms and security guarantees to protect Ukraine and the rest of Europe from Russian aggression now and in the future.

"Now is the moment to double down on our military support," Sunak said.

Amid warnings from Kyiv that its forces need more supplies quickly, the European Union is urgently exploring ways for its member countries to team up to provide munitions, officials said.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the idea of joint procurement of 155-millimeter artillery shells — badly needed by Kyiv — during a meeting Monday in Brussels.

’It is now the time, really, to speed up the production, and to scale up the production of standardized products that Ukraine needs desperately,’ European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the security conference on Saturday.

Zelenskyy address

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked allies for their support in hastening military aid and for holding Russia accountable for crimes against the Ukrainian people.

’This week, we received strong signals from our partners, and concrete agreements regarding the inevitability of holding Russia accountable for aggression, for terror against Ukraine and its people," he said.

"Every Russian attack on the city of Kharkiv and the region, Sumy region and Donetsk region, Khmelnytsky, our Nikopol, and every corner of our state will have concrete legal consequences for the terrorist state,’ he said. "It applies not only to the evil that Russia has brought since February 24 but also since 2014,’ he said.

As Russian troops intensifying assaults in the east, Ukraine is planning a spring counteroffensive for which it needs additional, heavier and longer-range weapons from its Western allies.

The governor of Luhansk, one of two provinces in what is known as the Donbas, which Russia partially controls and wants to take completely, said ground and air attacks were increasing.

’Today, it is rather difficult in all directions,’ Serhiy Haidai told local TV. ‘There are constant attempts to break through our defense lines,’ he said of fighting near the city of Kreminna.

The British Defense Ministry said Saturday in its daily intelligence update that it has become "increasingly difficult" for the Kremlin to insulate the Russian population from the war in Ukraine.

"A December 2022 Russian poll reported that 52% had either a friend or relative who had served in the so-called Special Military Operation," the ministry said.

Tatiana Vorozhko of VOA’s Ukrainian service contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.