Disturbing forensic findings from the Kyiv region in Ukraine point to excessive brutality and violence carried out by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians.
A recent report by The Guardian claimed that Russian soldiers may have raped several Ukrainian women before killing them, according to forensic doctors carrying out postmortem examinations in mass graves near Ukraine’s capital.
“We already have a few cases which suggest that these women had been raped before being shot to death,” said Vladyslav Perovskyi, a Ukrainian forensic doctor who has been examining bodies recovered from Bucha, where Russia has been accused of war crimes.
Perovskyi’s team has described horrific cases of mutilated bodies that make the process of identification extremely challenging and often impossible.
“There are many burnt bodies, and heavily disfigured bodies that are just impossible to identify,” Perovskyi said. “The face could be smashed into pieces, you can’t put it back together, sometimes there’s no head at all.”
The distorted shape of the bodies also makes it harder to find signs of rape and sexual abuse, according to a foreign coroner cited by The Guardian.
Oleh Tkalenko, a senior prosecutor for the Kyiv region, said his office was investigating several alleged rapes committed by Russian troops.
“Rape cases are a very delicate and sensitive matter,” he said. “Forensic doctors have a specific task of checking the genitalia of female victims and looking for signs of rape.”
Another report indicated that dozens of civilians in Bucha may have been killed by small metal darts used primarily during the first world war.
“We found several really thin, nail-like objects in the bodies of men and women and so did others of my colleagues in the region,” Vladyslav Pirovskyi, a Ukrainian forensic doctor, told The Guardian. “It is very hard to find those in the body, they are too thin. The majority of these bodies come from the Bucha-Irpin region.”
Pathologists and coroners found small metal arrows in people’s heads and chests. Such arrows are called fléchettes, an anti-personnel weapon used during the first world war, according to The Guardian.
Up to 8,000 fléchettes can fit inside one single shell, which explodes above ground and can reach a distance of about 300 meters (328 yards) wide and 100 meters (109 yards) long. If one piece hits a human body it can bend into a hook.
Local residents of Bucha have said they had found several such metal arrows nailed on their cars.
Despite being considered controversial means of warfare, the use of fléchettes on its own is not prohibited under international law. Using them in civilian areas, however, is.
Bucha was the scene of hundreds of civilian killings which Ukraine has blamed on Russian forces who occupied it for several weeks. Russia has denied responsibility for the deaths and Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed reports of Russian soldiers shooting civilians as “fake.”
Since the beginning of the war in late February, a UN rights monitoring mission has received 75 allegations of sexual violence by Russian forces, including against children.
Agencies contributed to this report.