One Year ago, after having said that he will never attack Ukraine, Putin sent his army to try and conquer Kyiv under the pretext of “denazification”. Since then, Ukrainian civilians have been tortured and killed, every day. Missiles and artillery have been fired at Ukrainian cities and villages, yet Putin continues to deny civilians are being targeted.
Since March 2022 Yahad – In Unum has been recording evidence – interviews, photographs, and videos – of systematic Russian war crimes and crimes against humanity across Ukraine. We documented proof of the bombing of residential or civilian buildings, killings, violence and torture towards Ukrainian civilians and the forced deportation of civilians to Russia by Russian soldiers.
For the first time in a war, the attackers are not denying their attacks, but denying the committing of crimes and denying the identities of their victims.
That’s the key challenge that Yahad wants to confront.
The crimes committed by Russian soldiers or units are pervasively denied by Putin, Lavrov, and by the President’s spokesperson. Furthermore, the crimes are denied daily by Russian politicians, so-called experts and journalists in Russia and abroad.
Every time a crime is committed, Russia and its supporters follow a pattern of denial that closely resembles traditional genocide denial. First, the existence of the victims or the objects that were hit is denied. If that doesn’t work, the propaganda pretends military personnel or objects were present at the scene. Lastly, the Russians pretend that the attack was unintentional, and that the real military target was somewhere nearby.
After the Kramatorsk train station attack in April 2022 during which 60 civilians died, the Russian government said that no civilian was present at the train station. We were able to find witnesses who confirmed that the station was full of civilians.
In Kremenchuk in June 2022 when a mall was hit and 21 civilians died, Lavrov said it was empty.
We were able to interview seven employees and customers working that day.
In Dnipropetrovsk in January 2023, after having killed 46 civilians in their apartments, the Russian representatives explained this was a military base.
This false narrative is repeated after every civilian attack. The more pervasive the lies are, the more deeply embedded they become in public opinion. As people increasingly believe the lies, there is less of a systematic reaction necessary to curtail the propaganda.
But international media interest has slowly faded, with increased focus on the military campaigns in the East and the South. Most of the actual news report about tanks, the front, but nothing about the crimes currently being committed by the Russian troops.
However, the torture and killing of civilians has continued to be investigated and documented in places such as Kherson, Kharkiv, Kupiansk and Lyman, among others.
What we do
Civilian victims have begun to appear as little more than numbers on a page. In the news, Yahad - In Unum decided to investigate the indiscriminate killing and torture of civilians, recording witness testimonies, and documenting facts, giving a voice to and fighting for justice for the suffering victims of this terrible ongoing war.
Meeting with tortured victims brings to light why the Russians carry out such violence against civilians and what their real objectives are. Through torture, the Russians have revealed their real intentions: to turn Ukrainian civilians into Russians.
Yahad – In Unum has been documenting these crimes since the very first days of the invasion.
The aim of our investigations is twofold:
1) to collect evidence of the crimes so that the perpetrators are held accountable, which is a key element in providing justice to the victims.
2) to dismantle Putin’s propaganda: Russia, which calls its actions a “special military operation”, has denied targeting civilians and committing war crimes.
It is crucial to methodically deconstruct the Kremlin’s false narrative and provide evidence of the real motives and the extent and impact of their actions.
Yahad – In Unum's work to date has resulted in:
62 witnesses or victims of bombings and shellings
45 witnesses or victims of murder and violence
23 witnesses or survivors of torture and hostage taking
14 witnesses or victims of looting and theft
10 witnesses or victims of deportation and/or forced screening
2 witnesses of sexual violence
Yahad - In Unum has recorded over 500 hours of interviews of Russian crimes from more than 60 locations in 13 different regions, based on the same methodology that has been applied over the past 15 years to investigate the Holocaust by bullets or contemporary genocide like the Yazidi genocide. The testimonies provide valuable details which can corroborate other pieces of evidence or, in certain cases, become the main piece of evidence which will be crucial for the prosecution of perpetrators.
Yahad is currently investigting cases of torture on Ukrainian civilians in the jails of occupied territories (Kherson and Crimea) to reveal the involvement of the FSB, which is trying to transform Ukrainian prisoners into Russians.
Co-founder of the Project, Investigator, Criminal Law Expert
Operations Director in Ukraine