The human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Sunday that "summary executions" and "other serious abuses" that could amount to war crimes have been committed in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine.
The NGO claims to have documented several cases between 27 February and 14 March in which Russian forces committed what it said were war crimes against civilians in occupied areas in the Chernobyl, Kharkiv and Kiev regions.
According to a statement by the organisation, these cases include one rape, two summary executions, of six men on one occasion and one on another, and other instances of violence and threats against civilians.
The summary executions documented on the basis of witness interviews took place on 4 March in Bucha, north-west of the capital, and on 27 February in Staryi Bykiv, in the Chernobyl region (north).
In the latter case, a neighbour in a nearby town who spoke to eyewitnesses told HRW that while people were sheltering in basements from mortar fire, soldiers went house to house and took men away, allegedly for interrogation.
"We found them lying with bullet holes in their heads. Their hands were tied behind their backs," Viktoria, the mother of one of the six executed youths, told the organisation, adding that the soldiers did not let her pick up the body for several days.
In Bucha, a suburb of Kiev, a woman interviewed by HRW recalled that Russian forces gathered neighbours in the square and inspected the identity documents and mobile phones of those present, as well as asking who belonged to the territorial defence forces.
1/2— Stanislav Aseyev (@AseyevStanislav) April 2, 2022
Pictures of some villages freed in Kyiv region, specifically Bucha, are devastating. Dead people lying outside of their houses, in what can only have been a “zachistka” - systemic execution of the men of each house. One body in front of every house. pic.twitter.com/6dQmp849tc
Later, five men were brought in and ordered to kneel on the ground. "They shot one of them in the head," the woman said, adding that the Russian commander told the rest of the neighbours: "We are here to cleanse you of this scum.
Meanwhile, a 31-year-old woman from the Kharkov region (north-east) told the NGO that a Russian soldier repeatedly raped her in the school where she was sheltering with her family, and also beat her and cut her face and neck with a knife.
"All the time he pointed his gun at my temple or in my face. Twice he shot at the ceiling and said it was to give me more motivation," said the woman, identified as "Olga", who was in the school shelter with her five-year-old daughter. The woman later walked with her family from the village of Malaya Rohan to Chernigov, where she received medical assistance and contacted the authorities to report the incident.
HRW added that it has received other allegations of sexual violence by Russian soldiers in the Chernobyl region and in Mariupol in the south, but has not been able to independently verify them.
"Cases of rape, murder and other violent acts against the population in the custody of Russian forces should be investigated as war crimes," said HRW Europe director Hugh Williamson. "Russia has a legal obligation to impartially investigate alleged war crimes by its soldiers."
Following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the northern suburbs of Kiev, Ukrainian media have reported finding dozens of lifeless, bound bodies dumped in the streets in what appear to have been summary executions. The mayor of Bucha, Anatoli Fedoruk, said yesterday that local authorities collected 280 bodies from the streets and buried them in a mass grave.