UN rights chief details Russia’s summary killings of hundreds of Ukrainian civilians

Over 400 executed in first 6 weeks of invasion, including children; actual figure likely ‘considerably higher,’ Human Rights Council hears

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk at a news conference in Khartoum, Sudan, November 16, 2022. (Marwan Ali/AP)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk at a news conference in Khartoum, Sudan, November 16, 2022. (Marwan Ali/AP)

GENEVA, Switzerland — In just the first weeks of Russia’s war in Ukraine, hundreds of civilians were summarily killed, the UN rights chief said Thursday, decrying likely war crimes.

Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council, Volker Turk said his office had documented the summary executions and direct killings of 441 civilians across just three regions of Ukraine from the time Russia’s full-scale invasion began on February 24 until April 6.

Presenting a report by his office, Turk said the direct killings of 341 men, 72 women, 20 boys and eight girls had been documented in 102 villages and towns across the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions during that time-frame.

“The actual figures are likely to be considerably higher as we are working to corroborate an additional 198 alleged killings in these regions,” he told the council.

“There are strong indications that the summary executions documented in the report may constitute the war crime of wilful killing.”

Turk, who last week visited the war-ravaged country, provided harrowing details of some of the killings documented in the report.

Volunteers load on a truck corpses of civilians killed in Bucha to be taken to a morgue for investigation, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 12, 2022. (/Rodrigo Abd/AP)

“In some cases, Russian soldiers executed civilians in makeshift places of detention,” he said.

“Others were summarily executed on the spot following security checks, in their houses, yards, and doorways, even where the victim had shown clearly that they were not a threat, for example, by holding their hands in the air.”

Men and boys comprised 88 percent of all the victims of summary executions presented in the report, he said, “suggesting that they were disproportionately targeted based on their gender.”

In addition to such summary executions, he said, Russian armored vehicles and tanks also fired at residential buildings, killing civilians in their homes.

And, he said, “civilians were struck on roads while moving within or between settlements or while commuting to work”.

While such killings were not limited to specific areas, some were more affected than others.

Hundreds of bodies were discovered in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha after the Russian army was driven out in March.

Turk said his office had documented the killings of 73 civilians there, including three children, between March 4 and 30, and was “in the process of corroborating 105 additional alleged killings of civilians.”

Policemen work on the identification process following the killing of civilians in Bucha, before sending the bodies to the morgue, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Beyond the period examined by the report, Turk said his team had continued to document ongoing gross violations affecting both civilians and combatants in the conflict, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence.

So far, he warned, “accountability remains sorely lacking.”

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