By U.S. Ambassador Judy Rising Reinke
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and unjust war on Ukraine has unleashed horrific violence and caused immense death and destruction. As you watch the news from Ukraine and witness the horrors of this war in the images from towns like Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, and Mariupol, many of you must remember how your lives were affected by the violence that seized the region in the 1990s. Today, as we mark the grim milestone of 100 days of war, I would encourage all peace-loving citizens of Montenegro to stand in solidarity with Ukraine and condemn Russia for the wanton brutality it is unleashing on the people of Ukraine as I write.
This violence has taken the form of attacks that have injured and killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, a theater where children were sheltering, and a busy railway station, resulting in a national, collective trauma for Ukrainians. There are also credible reports of brutal, personal violence: individuals killed execution-style; bodies showing signs of torture; and sexual violence against women and children.
These horrifying events in Ukraine do not appear to be isolated incidents or cases of individual soldiers ignoring orders and “going rogue.” They involve reports of what appears to be a deliberate campaign and a deeply disturbing pattern of torture, rape, murder, and other atrocities. It must stop and those responsible for these atrocities – including those who ordered them – must be held to account.
Attacks like the April 28 missile strike on Kyiv demonstrate a blatant disregard for civilian lives. As of May 31, the United Nations has officially confirmed the deaths or wounding of 9,094 Ukrainian civilians, while emphasizing that the actual toll is likely considerably higher. These numbers do not include Mariupol, a city in which Ukrainian officials report more than 10,000 civilians have been killed. Among the victims in Mariupol was a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, who perished in a basement during the Kremlin’s siege.
President Biden and Secretary Blinken have condemned the apparent war crimes that members of Russia’s forces have committed in Ukraine. The United States, the European Union, and our Allies and partners are tracking atrocities in Ukraine so we can share information with the institutions working to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. The United States is also supporting a range of international investigations into atrocities in Ukraine. This includes those investigations conducted by the International Criminal Court, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
On May 17, the U.S. Department of State launched a new Conflict Observatory to capture, analyze, and make widely available evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine. At the request of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, we are also supporting a team of international prosecutors and war crimes experts who are providing advice and support to efforts by Ukrainian authorities to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of atrocities for prosecution. On April 13, the OSCE fact-finding mission published a meticulous and compelling account of Russia’s violations and abuses of human rights and its violations of international humanitarian law. It cited evidence of direct targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, executions, looting, and forced deportation of civilians to Russia. Ukraine’s human rights ombudsperson has reported that Russian forces held and repeatedly raped dozens of Ukrainian girls and women – some of whom are pregnant as a result – while stating the intent was for those victims to recoil from sex in the future and therefore never bear Ukrainian children.
There is strong international consensus that the conduct of the Russian state is intolerable and those responsible must not go unpunished for unleashing such violence and for blatantly violating the principles that undergird international peace and security. Our simple message to Russia’s military and political leadership, as well as its military rank and file who commit war crimes or other atrocities, is this: the world is watching, and you will be held accountable. We will continue to provide Ukraine the weapons and equipment that it needs to defend itself, and we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance for those affected by the Kremlin’s brutal, senseless war.