‘They were shooting at civilians’: Ukrainian refugees witnessed abuse

As over 2 million Ukrainian refugees begin to scatter across Europe and beyond, some bear valuable testimonies to build war crimes case

PRZEMYSL, Poland — As more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees begin to disperse across Europe and beyond, some bear valuable testimonies to build a war crimes case.

Increasingly, those showing up at border crossings are survivors who fled some of the towns hardest hit by Russian forces.

“It was very strange,” said Ihor Diekov, one of many who crossed the Irpin River outside Kiev on the slippery wooden planks of a makeshift bridge after the Ukrainians blew up the concrete span to slow the Russian advance.

He heard gunshots while crossing and saw dead bodies along the road.

“The Russians promised to provide a (humanitarian) corridor which they did not respect. They were shooting at civilians,” he said. “It’s absolutely true. I witnessed it. People were afraid. »

Such testimonies will increasingly reach the world in the days to come as more and more people stream along the fragile humanitarian corridors.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday that three of these corridors operated from bombed areas. People left Sumy, in the northeast near the Russian border; suburb of Kyiv; and Enerhodar, the southern city where Russian forces took control of a large nuclear power plant. In total, about 35,000 people came out, he said.

More evacuations were announced for Thursday as desperate residents sought to leave towns where food, water, medicine and other essentials were in short supply.

At least 1 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine on top of the growing number of refugees, International Organization for Migration Director General Antonio Vitorino told reporters. The scale of the humanitarian crisis is so extreme that the “worst-case scenario” in IOM’s contingency planning has already been exceeded, he said.

Trained Russian-speaking and Ukrainian psychologists are essential, Vitorino said, as more traumatized witnesses join those fleeing.

Nationwide, thousands of people have reportedly been killed across Ukraine, both civilians and soldiers, since the invasion by Russian forces two weeks ago. Municipal officials in the blocked port city of Mariupol said 1,200 residents had been killed there, including three in the bombing of a children’s hospital. In Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, the prosecutor’s office said 282 residents were killed, including several children.

The United Nations human rights office said on Wednesday it recorded the killing of 516 civilians in Ukraine in the two weeks following the Russian invasion, including 37 children. Most were caused by “the use of explosive weapons with a large impact area”, he said. He believes the actual toll is “considerably higher” and noted that his figures do not include some areas of “intense hostilities”, including Mariupol.

Some of the later refugees witnessed these deaths firsthand. Their testimonies will be a vital part of efforts to hold Russia accountable for targeting civilians and civilian structures like hospitals and homes.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court last week launched an investigation that could target senior officials allegedly responsible for war crimes, after dozens of court member states called on him to take action. Evidence collection has begun.

Some countries have continued to relax measures in favor of refugees. Britain said from Tuesday Ukrainians with passports no longer need to visit a visa application center to provide their fingerprints and can instead apply to enter the Kingdom United online and fingerprint after arrival. Fewer than 1,000 visas were granted out of more than 22,000 applications from Ukrainians to join their families there.

Ukrainians who manage to flee fear for those who cannot.

“I’m scared,” said Anna Potapola, a mother of two who arrived in Poland from the town of Dnipro. “When we had to leave Ukraine, my children asked me: ‘Are we going to survive?’ I am very scared and I fear for the people left behind.


Associated Press reporters from across Europe contributed.


Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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