Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the world has watched unspeakable horrors carried out by the Russian military. The scenes from towns such as Bucha, Irpin, and Mariupol have been burned into the collective memories of those plugged into Western media. And yet few have dared to call this conflict what it truly is – a genocide.
An independent panel of legal scholars, jurists, academics, and civil society groups have now come forward with a new report that demonstrates without a doubt that the Russian military is intent on carrying out a genocide in Ukraine.
From the very start of the conflict, evidence has emerged of the Russian military purposefully targeting civilians, their homes, and their businesses. But perhaps more strikingly, they have done so with the intent of destroying what it means to be Ukrainian. Reports have shown that Russian soldiers on the ground have been given free reign when it comes to torturing, looting, vandalising, and raping their way across Ukraine.
And in occupied territories worse crimes still have been committed. Ukrainian civilians have been systematically rounded up and deported to Russia – many are expected to end up as modern-day slaves. Women have been raped – with some soldiers claiming it’s to ensure that the children are “Russians”. Cultural heritage sites have been destroyed, road signs changed, and the Ukrainian language banned. Politicians and activists have disappeared entirely.
According to the group of scholars, led by the New Lines Institute in Washington DC, there is no doubt that Russia has used the language of genocide in its statements. It is intent not only on killing as many Ukrainians as possible, but also to destroy their language, culture, and identity.
It is difficult to quantify what exactly Russia has so far carried out in Ukraine, as much is as yet unclear. But given all that has been found in Bucha alone – a town no bigger than Wokingham or Tunbridge Wells, one can only begin to imagine what is yet to be discovered.
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What is clear is that it has no intention of stopping. The Kremlin set its course many years ago when it began a campaign of delegitimising the very notion of what it meant to be a Ukrainian – from early claims that Ukrainians were nothing more than lost Russians, to the more sinister allegations that it was a nation overcome by fascism. The Russian President made his intentions clear in his now infamous TASS article in 2021 – in which his stated objective was to show that there was no distinction between the Ukrainian and Russian people.
This campaign has had a profound impact on Russian public perceptions in Ukraine, with many inside the country fully supporting the war against their neighbour. They see it as a duty to wipe out the imagined threat of fascism in Ukraine – which has become a standard justification for the extermination of the Ukrainian people.
In the territories currently occupied by Ukraine, it is clear that a regime of ethnic cleansing is taking place. Town names, street signs, and other media are being Russified – with any reference to the Ukrainian language swept away. Political and civil leaders have been abducted. Ethnic Ukrainians deported. And in areas that have been liberated, mass graves have been found of those murdered by the occupying forces.
What is taking place in Ukraine today has stark parallels with what has taken place in Bosnia, Rakhine State in Burma, Xinjiang in China, and fascist Central Europe during the Second World War. A systematic extermination of the indigenous population.
The West has for seven decades stood by the slogan, “never again” when it comes to genocide, and yet Europe is facing a regime hell bent on the extermination of an entire ethnic group. This report has shone a light on what is truly taking place in Ukraine – and it is time for the West to live up to its promise of “never again.”
Robert Tyler is a senior policy adviser at New Direction, a Brussels-based think tank.