Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that “the bodies of both civilians and military personnel are being found” in Kherson, which he visited Monday to hail “the beginning of the end of the war.” A prominent Kremlin proxy tasked with administrating the occupied parts of a neighboring Ukrainian region maintained that those war crimes will have been committed by the incoming Ukrainian forces, despite independent investigations that blamed Russian troops for the atrocities discovered in areas temporarily under their control.
“Now that the Ukrainian army has entered Kherson, people tortured to death and killed as a result of extrajudicial reprisals by Zelensky’s militants will now be presented as victims of violence of Russia and Russian soldiers,” predicted Vladimir Rogov, an official in the Russia-installed administration overseeing the Kremlin’s conquests in Zaporizhzhia. “The Zelensky regime’s methods of warfare and war crimes have confirmed this more than once in Bucha and in the Kharkiv region.”
That analogy to Bucha could prove to be counterproductive for shaping international public opinion, given the results of an independent investigation of the massacres conducted after Russian forces abandoned their attempt to seize the Ukrainian capital.
“It has discovered clear patterns of serious violations of [international humanitarian law] attributable mostly to Russian armed forces in many areas which its investigations referred to,” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported following two missions to Ukraine. “Most, albeit not all, violations have been committed in the territories under the effective control of the Russian Federation, including the territories of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and are largely attributable to the Russian Federation.”
The report added that there are “documented cases of indiscriminate shooting by the Russian armed forces of any persons venturing outside their homes during the period of the occupation,” including attacks on civilian adults and children. Some of these “deaths could in fact pass for incidental losses stemming from military operations” against nearby Ukrainian forces, the OSCE allowed, but only a minority of the cases.
“In most of the other incidents reported above, however, it would be hard to find any plausible legal justification,” the report found. “Killing an unarmed civilian with their hands tied after subjecting them to violent investigation can never be found compatible with [international human rights law].”
That international assessment forms an ominous backdrop for Russian predictions about the allegations that will arise in the newly-liberated city. “Kherson is not Bucha or Izyum. It is a big city and they have plenty of room to expand,” the Russian Civic Chamber’s Alexander Malkevich told Russian state media. ”It is utter gibberish and nonsense but these provocations will be ventured and it will be done on a grand scale … My forecast about Bucha 3.0 is 200% real.”
Zelensky advised “all residents of Kherson to be very careful” as they move about the city, citing the risk of mines left behind by the retreating Russian troops. “In the Kherson region, the Russian army left behind the same atrocities as in other regions of our country, where it was able to enter,” he continued. “We will find and bring to justice every murderer. Without a doubt.”