Russia invades Ukraine, country braces for major Donbas offensive

Forensic scientists and police inspect the bodies of local residents after removing them from a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 11.
Forensic scientists and police inspect the bodies of local residents after removing them from a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 11. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general of Ukraine, discussed her office’s war crimes investigation during a CNN interview Monday. Venediktova said that they are currently building “more than 5,800 cases,” which don’t even include incidents happening in places that are currently under Russian control, including Mariupol.

“And with every day, we started more and more such proceedings,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview on “The Lead.”

Venediktova said that she has made multiple visits to the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, where images of mass graves have been observed, and plans to return again tomorrow.

“We are still exhuming the dead bodies from the mass grave. Actually, what we see, now, we see horrors of war, a lot of war crimes, actually, it is not only war crimes. Now we can say … a lot of crimes against humanity,” she told CNN.

Venediktova was asked on CNN about her office’s report earlier today that found 183 children had been killed and 342 had been wounded since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine. That report cited preliminary figures from juvenile prosecutors.  

“As of April 11, 2022, according to official data from juvenile prosecutors, more than 525 children were casualties in Ukraine as a result of the armed invasion of our country by the Russian Federation,” the statement from the prosecutor general read. “183 children died and more than 342 were injured. These figures are not final, as work is underway in places of active hostilities in the temporarily occupied and liberated territories.”

With regards to the figures, Venediktova described them as “not correct” because they don’t account for the dead in places like Mariupol that are occupied by the Russians. 

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday, “tens of thousands” of people had been killed in the besieged city of Mariupol, a figure that could not be immediately verified. 

The prosecutor general explained how they are proceeding with probing events in Mariupol since the area is still under Russian control, including how they are getting information from individuals who have been able to evacuate.

“We started to proceed the common case. We don’t know concrete facts. But common case, for example, as a bomb in maternity hospital in Mariupol, drama theater in Mariupol, and all the cases, we started. Because we have some refugees, you know, that people could evacuate from Mariupol. We knew some facts from the witnesses,” she said.

Asked about suspects and potential war crimes prosecutions, Venediktova said that they “want to prosecute these war criminals in our Ukrainian courts, named by Ukraine.” 

“But, of course, for us… it is a lane of international criminal court,” she added, acknowledging the role the International Criminal Court (ICC) plays in these cases.

Venediktova said they are therefore doing their investigations under international law and currently have more than 500 suspects, including top politicians, top military officers and top Russian propaganda agents who they suspect started and continue this war.

The prosecutor general said that they understand that three people in the Russian Federation are now under functional immunity — the president, when he is still president, the minister of foreign affairs and the prime minister. “This is rule,” she noted.

“But from the other side, absolutely possible to take them to responsibility by instruments of international criminal courts,” she told CNN, noting that is why they are documenting all the evidence for the “big fish” to learn about who wanted this war, who started this war and who continued this war.

The International Criminal Court formally opened an investigation into the situation in Ukraine last month. The top war crimes prosecutor for the ICC has traveled to Ukraine to investigate, and the US Embassy in Kyiv argued in the war’s opening days that specific Russian attacks constituted war crimes. Read more about how war crimes prosecutions work here.

Watch CNN’s interview with Ukraine’s prosecutor general:

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