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Ukrainian Prosecutor Says Russian Atrocities Include Rape, Waterboarding

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin testifies in Washington during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about war crimes in Ukraine, April 19, 2023.
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin testifies in Washington during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about war crimes in Ukraine, April 19, 2023.

Russia's invading forces are deliberately using rape, torture and kidnapping to try to sow terror among civilians in Ukraine, the top prosecutor in Ukraine told U.S. lawmakers in graphic testimony Wednesday.

Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said nearly 80,000 cases of war crimes have been registered in Ukraine since the war began in February 2022.

Focusing on just one area of the country that has felt the brunt of the war, Kostin described some of the discoveries made when the Ukrainian military liberated Kherson last November. He said about 20 torture chambers were found and more than 1,000 survivors have reported an array of abuses, including the use of electric shocks, waterboarding, being forced to strip naked and threats of mutilation and death.

Kostin said more than 60 cases of rape were documented in the Kherson region alone. In areas still controlled by Russian forces, residents, including children, are being forcefully relocated to other occupied territories or to Russia.

"Such evil cannot let be," Kostin said.

He was asked about the motivations behind Russia's tactics, but said he struggles to understand the brutality of the Russian forces in targeting civilians.

"The only possible explanation is that they just want to erase Ukraine and Ukrainians from the land," Kostin said. "Maybe because they want to really kill all of us."

Russian officials have consistently denied committing war crimes in what it calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

The United States House Foreign Affairs Committee invited Kostin to testify. The chairman, Republican Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, believes that spotlighting the brutality of Russia's actions will show lawmakers and voters why the U.S. is in the right in supporting Ukraine.

"This is happening right now. They are monsters and they need to be brought to justice," McCaul said. "These are more than war crimes. These are more than crimes against humanity. What we are witnessing in Ukraine is genocide."

McCaul also issued a challenge to fellow lawmakers, saying "history will judge us by what we do here and now."

"No country can remain neutral in the face of such evil," McCaul said.

US leader pushes to provide F-16 jets

Congress approved about $113 billion in economic, humanitarian and military spending in 2022 to assist Ukraine. President Joe Biden has repeatedly said the United States will help Ukraine "as long as it takes" to repel the Russian invasion, though support for that aid has softened, polling shows.

Congressional leaders anticipate that Ukraine will need billions of dollars in additional assistance in the months ahead.

Ukraine is preparing to launch a counteroffensive in an attempt to regain territory lost to Russian troops. McCaul said he would like to see the U.S. back Ukraine's efforts to retake Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia seized in 2014, so it could negotiate for a cease-fire from a stronger position. He is pushing for the U.S. and its allies to provide Ukraine with long-distance artillery and F-16 fighter jets for the counteroffensive.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that he spoke by telephone with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, and thanked him for bipartisan support from Congress. Zelenskyy also outlined the "situation at the front" and Ukraine's "urgent defense needs in armored vehicles, artillery, air defense & aircraft."

The House committee also heard from a war crimes survivor, a 57-year-old woman, who said she was taken to a torture chamber for five days, beaten, forced to strip and endured threats of rape and murder. At one point, she was forced to dig her own grave. She said her house was looted. She has escaped, but other Ukrainians still experience such treatment in Russian-controlled territories, she said.

"These terrible crimes need to be stopped," she told lawmakers. Her identity was not revealed out of concerns about retribution.

Prosecutor calls for reparations

Kostin said exposing atrocities is not enough.

"Only with discovering and determining truth, bringing perpetrators to responsibility and providing adequate reparations to victims and survivors, we can say justice has been done," Kostin said.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant last month for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. But the practical implications are limited as the chances of Putin facing trial at the court are highly unlikely because Moscow does not recognize the court's jurisdiction or extradite its nationals.

McCaul told The Associated Press he will press for the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI agents to assist prosecutors in Ukraine, even as he doubts there will ever be a full reckoning for the war crimes.

"I don't know what's going to happen, how this is going to end," McCaul said. "But at least there'll be historical documentation about what they did, for generations to read about the atrocities."