Lara Kajs | 24 February 2023 |
On 24 February 2022, Russia launched an unprovoked attack against Ukraine. After a year of war in Ukraine, there have been more than 40,000 violent events across the country. Three-quarters of these are shelling, ground artillery, and missile airstrikes. There are reports of abductions, forced disappearances, rape, torture, and extrajudicial killings. The age of the victims of rape ranged from 4 to 82 years.
An investigation by the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry revealed that the extent of the violence includes war crimes and crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor opened its own investigation into crimes committed in Ukraine. The team of forensic experts, lawyers, analysts, and anthropologists visited the sites of mass atrocities gathering and vetting evidence of crimes.
Throughout the invasion, Russia methodically bombed non-military targets, killing and maiming tens of thousands of civilians. Russia’s indiscriminate attacks include the bombing of a train station as civilians were trying to evacuate, the bombing of a maternity hospital, a daycare, a theater, a school, and countless civilian housing, including a nine-story apartment building in January 2023.
Ukraine’s civilian energy infrastructure became targets of missiles and Iranian-made suicide drones. The world has witnessed reports of killings in Bucha, the bombing of Kharkiv, and the destruction of Mariupol. Towns have been destroyed. Displacement from the conflict reached historic numbers – during the first 48 hours of the invasion more than 50 thousand people fled Ukraine into neighboring countries. As of January 2023, at least 6.9 million are internally displaced in Ukraine, and some 8.1 million are displaced outside the country. And the trauma of the war haunts everyone in Ukraine.
After a year of war in Ukraine, the consequences of Putin’s unprovoked invasion have been far-reaching, increasing costs, and resulting in product and food shortages around the world. Ukraine has long been called the ‘world’s breadbasket” because of its extraordinary ability to produce grain. As the war unfolded, exports were reduced, causing global prices to spike, and increasing the risk of food insecurity. You need only look to the Horn of Africa and Yemen to see the devasting impact of the war in Ukraine. Without grain, the vulnerable people of those regions face famine and starvation.
But Russia’s leader clearly underestimated the strength of Ukraine’s resistance. Ukraine’s citizens and its military forces have been relentless in their determination to defend their country. Supported by nations around the world, Ukraine was able to push Russian forces back across the border. Between November and late December, Russian forces withdrew from Dnipro. However, by mid-January 2023, Russia had managed to newly mobilize personnel and renewed its offensive.
In the beginning, experts said without assistance, Russia would be victorious quickly, but even the experts were wrong. Through sheer willpower to hold onto their country, their freedom, and their determination for self-governance, they have continued to fight for a year. Ukraine has said that continued fighting is preferred to Russian occupation. Their determination is admirable.
A Call for Peace
Within two weeks of the invasion, on 2 March 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution demanding that “the Russian Federation immediately and unconditionally recognized borders” during an emergency special session. The measure was supported by 141 UN member states, with 35 abstentions, and five delegations – Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Eritrea – voting against the resolution.
A month later, in another emergency session, the General Assembly adopted “Humanitarian Consequences of Aggression against Ukraine”, once again demanding Russia stop hostilities in Ukraine. The resolution was supported by 140 member states and opposed by the same five as previously noted.
As part of Ukraine’s claim against Russia under the Genocide Convention, the International Court of Justice issued a ruling demanding Russia immediately suspend military operations in Ukraine. And yet, the resolutions were disregarded.
Since the start of the conflict, the Security Council has held 40 debates regarding the conflict. And despite repeated resolutions demanding Russia to cease and withdraw its forces from Ukraine – the war continues. The UN General Assembly and the Security Council continue to call for peace.
Impact of Sanctions
There is no indication that this war will end any time soon. It will likely take the pain of sanctions to get Putin to the negotiating table. Sanctions are a valuable alternative to military action, but the last year has shown the failure of sanctions as a tool to change behavior. Sanctions are meant to be felt, otherwise, they have no impact. Dependence on Russian energy prevents sanctions that have a real sting. The first step could be to stop buying Russian energy.
Prosecuting War Crimes
There is always the possibility that the investigations of the UN Human Rights Council and the ICC will produce a prosecutable case. Although neither Russia nor Ukraine is a party to the Rome Statute, a number of nations who are signatories, have already referred Putin’s actions and the crimes committed in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. At least once in the court’s history, a sitting head of state was tried. Slobodan Milošević stood trial and was found guilty of atrocity crimes in Kosovo in 1999. Indictments have also been handed down for former heads of state: former President of Libera Charles Taylor and former President of Chad Hissène Habré.
But even as the war continues, the humanitarian crisis that has evolved from the conflict cannot be ignored. In 2023, the UN is seeking $5.6 billion for Ukraine – $3.6 billion to provide more than 11 million Ukrainians with humanitarian aid and $1.7 billion to help Ukrainian refugees in 10 host countries.
Photo Credit: Servicemen of the Emergency Service of Ukraine dispose of Russian bombs during the battle of Chernihiv on 9 March 2022. In total, the Emergency Service worked on 22 requests for bomb disposal that day. Disposal of Russian bombs in Chernihiv, 9 March 2022 by State Emergency Service of Ukraine. Licensed under CC by 4.0