Retreating Russian troops are leaving behind a trail of heinous atrocities. This was expected. Life, for the Putin regime and the country it controls, matters little. The Soviet Union and post-USSR Russia have a compelling history of waging war like savage barbarians. The liberated territories of Ukraine are showing the world that Russians have continued the uncivilized pattern of warfare that has characterized them for the last 105 years. The uncovered Ukrainian killing fields in Bucha, Irpin, Motyzhyn, Staryi Bykiv, Zabuchchya, Vorzel, Malaya Rohan, Trostyanets, and Mariupol raise a renewed international challenge to draw upon the Radbruch Formula against Russia in the International Criminal Court.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the horrific sightings, the “tip of the iceberg.” Testimonial accounts, lamentably, abound. Four hundred twenty-one civilian casualties were uncovered on Sunday alone. Anatoly Fedoruk, the mayor of Bucha, a city on the outskirts of Kyiv that was under Russian occupation, noted that over two hundred eighty corpses were unearthed from mass graves. Photographs of dead civilians with their hands tied behind the back and gunshots to the head at close range offer clear signs of sadistic, execution-type killings. The naked dead bodies of women relay sessions of mass rape. Satellite images leave no room for doubt that the beastly crimes were committed by the Russian army.
Upon visiting Bucha on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was visibly touched by the horror he was witnessing. Emphatically, he condemned this as an act of “genocide” and the execution of “war crimes.” The Churchillian leader was not alone in this position. The U.S. view, as expressed by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, coincides with the Ukrainian authorities that highlight that this “show(s) further evidence of war crimes” against civilians. International outrage is leaving little room for timid reactions.
In a makeshift grave in a wooden area just outside Motyzhyn, a town 28 miles (ca. 45 kilometers) west of Kyiv, the tortured bodies of Olha Sukhenko, her husband Ihor Sukhenko and their 25-year-old son, Oleksandr, were discovered by authorities. “They tortured and murdered the whole family of the village head,” said Anton Herashchenko, former deputy minister at the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. In addition to civilians and elected officials, Ukrainian prisoners of war (POW) offer further evidence of war crimes. On April 4, Ukrainian human rights ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova confirmed that swapped prisoners of a recent exchange exhibited “signs of frostbitten limbs.” The Ukrainian POW’s, related Denisova, were imprisoned in basements without heating, denied food and kept without adequate clothing. Russia is unrelentingly violating the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
The Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Defense has made public a list with the names of Russian soldiers that operated in the Bucha locality during its occupation. The war crimes and the crimes against humanity committed rests on those soldiers, not only the Putin regime. Individual perpetrators bear responsibility The pathetic excuse of “just following orders” will not cut it. That matter was settled in 1946, thanks to the work of a German jurist, Gustav Radbruch, whose essay “Statutory Lawlessness and Suprastatutory Law,” outlined a course which judges in the Nuremberg Trials followed.
It was referred to as the “Radbruch Formula.” As the Nazi regime collapsed, the liberating forces unveiled the horrors of National Socialism. It turned out that a whole legal structure validated the atrocities. True to military discipline, German commanders insisted that they were only “following orders.” The Radbruch Formula established that if an act was so barbaric in nature, any law that authorized its execution was invalidated. Criminal accountability could not be pinned only on one person, in this case, Adolf Hitler. Individual culpability could not be circumvented.
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued, in 1863, the world’s first modern codification of military conduct during a war. The “General Orders No. 100,” (Lieber Code), with its 157 provisions, established the legal basis for civilized behavior in the conduction of war. Respect for civilian lives, gentlemanly composure by combatants, and a standardized treatment of POWs are some of the norms that Lincoln’s war conduct codification sought to institute.
The invading Russian forces are proving that they are but a band of ghastly hordes. Putin’s fabricated historical fable prescribes nothing less than genocide to wipe out Ukraine and Ukrainians. The hideous massacres that Russia is committing and to which the world is a witness to, should suffice to energetically move the West and place potent offensive weapons in the hands of the Ukrainian armed forces. The Free World can never say, they did not know or did not see.