Flouting War Crimes Charges, Putin Visits Occupied Ukrainian Territory

Flouting War Crimes Charges, Putin Visits Occupied Ukrainian Territory

Flouting War Crimes Charges, Putin Visits Occupied Ukrainian Territory

After a warrant was issued for his arrest by the International Criminal Court, the Russian president toured occupied Ukrainian land in Crimea and Mariupol.


Kyiv, Ukraine—Two days after a warrant was issued for his arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for forcibly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia, Vladimir Putin toured Russian-occupied Ukrainian land in Crimea and Mariupol. The visit was a brazen show of disrespect for the court and for the victims of Putin’s crimes, as the Russian president strolled by the sites of some of the most horrific human rights abuses so far in this war: the bombings in Mariupol of a theater-turned-shelter that killed 600 people and a maternity ward that killed at least one pregnant woman.

While the United States doesn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the ICC, President Joe Biden said its charges are “justified.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the court’s decision “historic,” and noted that Ukraine’s own investigation recorded at least 16,000 children forcibly deported during the invasion.

“It was impossible to imagine this even half a year ago,” Zelensky’s top adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, told The Nation in an interview on Saturday. “These are cruel crimes against humanity. This means that there will be no way back for Putin. Will Putin be arrested tomorrow? Of course not. However, this is a clear message to the world about what kind of man Putin is and how he will end his political career.” Later, in response to Putin’s visit to occupied Ukrainian territories, Podolyak wrote on Twitter: “The criminal always returns to the crime scene.”

When and whether Putin will actually be held accountable remains unclear. Russia doesn’t recognize the ICC, and a spokesperson for the Kremlin called the decision “legally null and void.” The New York Times reported on Sunday that Russia will not stop deporting Ukrainian children, and Putin’s visit to occupied Ukrainian territory seemed to be a direct challenge to the court’s power to prosecute him.

A few days before the ICC announced the arrest warrant, the United Nations released a report stating that Russia has committed “a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” including intentional, indiscriminate, and disproportionate attacks on civilians. The report describes the rape by Russian soldiers of a pregnant woman who later suffered a miscarriage; executions of civilians; and the beating of a priest who was then ordered to “parade naked for one hour in the streets of his village.”

Few areas of Ukraine have been spared during this stage of the invasion. Last May, I visited the tiny village of Inhulka, 30 kilometers northeast of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, which was briefly occupied by Russian forces last year. I spoke to a mother whose home was charred and riddled with bullet holes after troops barged through her front door as she hid in the basement with her young children. She showed me the collection of bullet casings left behind, and a pin from a grenade thrown into her living room. In the same village, I spoke to an elderly man who told me he was dragged out of his house, shot in the leg, kidnapped, held hostage in a grain silo, and interrogated before being released. On the outskirts of Inhulka, a missile lay in the grass, as workers tended to a farm a few meters away.

Later, in October, I watched as rescuers in Mykolaiv removed the body of a 31-year-old man who was killed after the top two floors of his apartment building were destroyed in a missile attack. The emergency workers used a crane to lower his corpse from the crescent-shaped void that was once his home. Seven civilians were killed in that strike, including an 11-year-old boy whom rescuers pulled from the rubble before he ultimately succumbed to his injuries at the hospital. “Putin is Hitler,” an elderly woman, shaken from surviving the strike, told me outside the formerly five-story complex, as aid workers handed out food and hot tea to those displaced by the attack.

A few days earlier in Kyiv, a missile left a massive crater in a playground, part of a bombardment during rush hour that killed six civilians. Such attacks have been constant throughout the war, killing civilians and damaging critical infrastructure, causing power outages and water shortages for residents who remain.

In the suburbs of Kyiv, residents are still trying to rebuild their lives after falling victim to some of the earliest atrocities of the invasion. At the epicenter of last year’s massacre in Bucha, on Vokzal’na Street and intersecting Yablunska Street, workers were busy on Saturday rebuilding homes and businesses along streets once riddled with dead bodies and the remnants of Russian armored vehicles. Oleh Grytsiuk, a resident who returned to Vokzol’na Street to check on the rebuilding process, said he stayed in the basement of his home as it was destroyed. “I had to dig my way out with a shovel,” he told me.

In nearby Irpin, residents struggle to live in partially destroyed apartment buildings where services like gas and water have returned only in recent months. Most of the homes inside are abandoned, littered with everything left behind before hurried evacuations: family photo albums, a pair of black shoes, children’s toys, and cups and plates somehow intact after explosions blew out windows and left shattered glass everywhere.

One resident, 66-year-old Svenya, told me her home was without gas until December, and she is still waiting for financial aid to help repair her windows. She spoke in the courtyard of her complex, the concrete beneath her feet pockmarked by imprints from cluster bombs. Two large buildings across the way were so damaged that the government can only tear them down, she said.

At a cemetery nearby, there are dozens of graves marked only by crosses and numbers, plots of civilians whose identities are still unidentified more than a year after they were killed by Russian invaders—a stark reminder that the final tally of Putin’s crimes remains unknown.

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