On Russian Atrocities in Ukraine and their Political Implications

By Uilson Jones

It has been well over a month since the beginning of the Russian Federation’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine. It was said that Kyiv would fall within a few days, a week, or a month. These predictions have been devoid of reality. In fact, the Ukrainians were not only able to hold off Russian military advance but also push back by launching counter offensives. These counter offensives were most successful in the north, pushing back the fleeing Russian army around Kyiv and Chernihiv back into Belarus, which is a remarkable feat. The world has witnessed Russia’s military incompetence as the invasion drags on whether it be fuel shortages, supply line issues, abandonding the most advanced military vehicles, soldiers refusing to comply with orders, or even dessertion. 

Putin’s embarrassment, however, came at great cost. After clearing out the last of the Russian soldiers in Kyiv Oblast, shocking imagery and reports emerged from the cities of Bucha and Irpin.

Reclaiming Bucha and Irpin

The scale of atrocities committed by the Russian army was found upon the Ukrainian Army’s entry into the cities in northwestern Kyiv. Civilians’ bodies were found scattered across the streets of the city. Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk stated that “in Bucha, we have already buried 280 people in mass graves”. Additionally, it was reported that the Russian army was deliberately targeting male civilians of fighting age in an organised way, as many were found with their hands tied behind their backs. Other bodies had been mutilated, including that of children. Images of burnt vehicles, bullet damages in the cars of fleeing civilians, and animal suffering surfaced on media sites. 

As the extent of sexual violence perpetrated by the invaders is becoming more exposed, there have been reports of women and young girls being subjected to gang-rape by Russian army men; sometimes in front of children. In addition to the targeting of women, children were terrorised as well. As claimed by the Spokesman of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, “enemies have been using Ukrainian children as a living shield when moving their convoys”. This depicts the extent of malicious strategies employed by the Russian army. According to Human Rights Watch, Russian soldiers were going from door to door questioning civilians, whilst at times breaking windows and doors and looting. 

The Kremlin has pathetically and cynically made an attempt to shift blame to the Ukrainian army by claiming that the Bucha massacre had happened after its army left – insinuating that the Ukrainians were somehow able to carry out weeks worth of atrocities on the day of the city’s liberation from occupation. This nonsensical claim has naturally been debunked by modern satellite technology. A satellite image taken on the 19th of March (at the time of the city’s occupation) showed bodies of civilians in the streets, thus directly conflicting with the claims of the Kremlin. 

Reports from Kherson and Mariupol 

Outside of the latest reports on Bucha and Irpin, the Russian army has also been accused of committing despicable acts in both Kherson and Mariupol. There have been widespread reports of Russian troops firing on civilian cars as they attempted to flee. And, when thousands of civilians decided to take things into their own hands and protest against the Russian occupation of their city, they were violently dispersed and fired upon by the army, leaving some injured. This is a pattern that repeated itself in other cities such as Berdyansk, Melitopol, Nova Kakhovka, Enerhodar where the Ukrainian people cemented their self-determined choice to remain a part of Ukraine in the most explicit manner, thus preventing the Kremlin’s war propaganda from flourishing.

Mariupol was one of the most affected cities in Ukraine as a result of Russian shelling. Local authorities state that 2,200 innocent people have been killed and 80% of its homes have been reduced to dust. Amnesty International’s leader Agnes Callamard has openly stated that “the siege of Mariupol, the denial of humanitarian evacuation and humanitarian escape for the population, and the targeting of civilians, according to Amnesty International’s investigation, amounts to war crimes”. She further went on to claim that “the crisis in Ukraine right now, the invasion … is not just any kind of violation of international law. It is an aggression. It is a violation of the U.N. charter of the kind that we saw when the U.S. invaded Iraq”. 

Political Implications

Ever since the Maidan uprising and the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 shifted the country’s political orientation West, Ukraine has been left in an extremely vulnerable position. Neither allied with Russia nor fully integrated into the defensive security pact of NATO, Ukraine found itself in the detrimental position of being ‘one foot in’ and ‘one foot out’ of the supposedly revolving door of the EU. Despite this, it has been growing closer and closer to the EU over the years, which led to rising hopes of EU and NATO integration as to safeguard itself from the Russian threat which has turned out to be far too gruesomely real. Putin’s claim that NATO has an open-door policy then, at least for Ukraine, is certainly untrue. Ukraine has been seeking membership in NATO for almost a decade, with little enthusiasm from the West. 

It is understandable that the EU would not want to grant Ukraine entry due to the conflict in the Donbas (prior to the invasion), however in doing so, they have left the country entirely vulnerable to Russian invasion and its atrocities. The utility of the EU to Ukraine in this crisis (outside of weapons shipments) has been similar to that of the UN – providing meaningless platitudes of support and condemnation whilst failing to materialise it. Although humanitarian efforts such as the acceptance of refugees and the provision of medical care, food, water, and shelter is highly commendable. 

The EU’s refusal to enforce a ‘no-fly zone’ and meaningfully defend Ukraine from imperialist aggression has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Ukrainians. Arms shipments to Ukraine from the US and the EU is a conservative action which serves their interests as well. Bogging down the Russian military in Ukraine is beneficial to Western interests by showcasing Russia’s incompetence in relation to US and NATO’s military might. Ukrainians now find themselves in the middle of a cynical great-power competition between a declining power who has miserably failed to occupy Kyiv and the seemingly invincible West. 

The EU and NATO needed to make a firm decision on whether Ukraine should have been admitted or not. Instead Ukraine was left in a geopolitical grayzone without a defensive alliance. We are seeing the consequences of Western indecisiveness play out in Ukraine right now, with the Bucha massacre and other Russian war crimes. 

Consequences for the Liberal World Order

With the outbreak of conflict after conflict, the United Nations is starting to look more and more like its deceased predecessor, the League of Nations. The inability to effectively deal with conflicts, particularly when one of the Security Council members are directly involved, has led to the undermining of the Liberal World Order. It has explicitly showcased its ineptitude in preventing genocides or providing sufficient humanitarian relief for people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Rwanda, Yugoslavia and now Ukraine with the Bucha Massacre. The capacity to avert and/or prevent war crimes as well as mediating conflicts is the raison d’être of the UN’s existence, and thus far its curriculum vitae does not look good.

The current world order is much too reliant upon the supposed sturdiness of global norms of engagement. Without the capability to intervene in order to establish these universalized norms it cannot expect countries to abide by them religiously. Additionally, if members of the Security Council act in an unlawful way, how can the UN be expected to function? This was the story of the League of Nations. The cause of its premature death was the lack of tools it had to intervene in conflicts as well as it being undermined by its own members. Witnessing these events unfold with the UN as the victim makes one think about the fate awaiting the Liberal World Order half a century or so down the line. 

Edited by Joanna Sowińska, artwork by Hannah Vonberg