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65,000 war crimes committed, prosecutor general says

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War crime prosecutor of Kharkiv Oblast stands with forensic technician and policeman at the site of a mass burial in a forest during exhumation on September 16, 2022 in Izium, Ukraine.

Yevhenii Zavhorodnii | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said Wednesday that regional authorities have registered more than 65,000 Russian war crimes since Moscow’s conflict began nearly a year ago.

“We have all witnessed with horror the evidence of atrocities committed in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Izium, Kherson, Kharkiv regions and other liberated cities and towns,” Kostin said, adding that Ukrainian authorities have discovered mass burial sites in areas occupied by Russian troops.

“These crimes are not incidental or accidental, they include indiscriminate shelling of civilians, willful killing, torture, conflict-related sexual violence, looting and forced displacement on a massive scale,” he added in remarks at the Georgetown Law School in Washington.

Read more: UN report details horrifying Ukrainian accounts of rape, torture and executions by Russian troops

His comments add to an emerging picture of the horrors experienced during nearly a year of war in Ukraine. The conflict has shown few signs of ending soon, even as local and international officials try to probe potential crimes committed over recent months in Ukraine.

In a separate discussion with journalists, Kostin said he believed Kyiv was close to gaining U.S. support to establish a special tribunal to prosecute Russia’s crimes of aggression.

Because potential war crimes cross a range of jurisdictions, the International Criminal Court cannot prosecute them, or heads of state such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. A special tribunal endorsed by the United Nations Security Council also seems unlikely, since Russia holds veto authority on all measures put forth by the 15-member group.

Beth van Schaack, President Joe Biden’s ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, said on Wednesday that the U.S. is considering a proposal that would name an interim prosecutor to start recording evidence of potential crimes that could be used later.

Kostin recently said European countries like France and the United Kingdom have agreed to help create a special tribunal.

Russia has repeatedly denied that its troops have committed war crimes or deliberately targeted civilians. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Kostin outlined even more of what he described as Russian abuses. He said his teams have also documented more than 14,000 Ukrainian children forced into adoption in Russia.

“This is a direct policy aimed at demographic change by cutting out Ukrainian identity,” Kostin said.

“These actions are characteristics of the crime of genocide,” he added.

The death toll in Ukraine is mounting as the conflict persists. As of Monday, the United Nations had confirmed at least 7,110 civilian deaths in Ukraine since Russia’s late-February invasion.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said the death toll in Ukraine is likely higher, because the armed conflict can delay fatality reports.

Kostin added that so far, more than 75,000 buildings, including homes, schools and hospitals, have been reduced to rubble.

People keep warm by fires outside the main rail terminal in Lviv, Ukraine.

Dan Kitwood | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Kostin also slammed Russian attempts to weaponize the winter season by targeting critical energy infrastructure across Ukrainian cities.

“Russia resorts to prohibited methods of warfare like weaponizing winter and aiming to starve, freeze and terrorize the civilian population in the whole territory of Ukraine,” Kostin said. He noted that approximately half of Ukraine’s energy sector has been destroyed by Russian shelling.

Last year as winter approached the region, America’s top military officer called Moscow’s deliberate targeting of energy infrastructure in Ukraine a war crime.

U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters in November that the Kremlin’s “deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid, causing excessive collateral damage and unnecessary suffering on the civilian population,” was a war crime.

Read more: Pentagon says Moscow’s deliberate targeting of Ukrainian energy grids is a war crime

Milley at the time said that more than a quarter of Ukrainians are estimated to be without power throughout the country during winter.

Alongside Milley, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the time described Russia’s missile and rocket attacks on civilian infrastructure as “deliberate cruelty” and called on the Kremlin to end its “war of choice.”

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