Report points to ‘wilful killing, torture, rape and other sexual violence, and the deportation of children to the Russian Federation’

Pjotr Sauer

21 October 2023

The Guardian

A United Nations investigation has found further evidence that Russian forces committed “indiscriminate attacks” and war crimes in Ukraine, including rape and the deportation of children to Russia. “The collected evidence further shows that Russian authorities have committed the war crimes of wilful killing, torture, rape and other sexual violence, and the deportation of children to the Russian Federation,” a United Nations commission of inquiry on Ukraine said in a report submitted to the UN general assembly.  “The commission has recently documented attacks that affected civilian objects, such as residential buildings, a railway station, shops, and a warehouse for civilian use, leading to numerous casualties.”

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and has said Ukrainian allegations of war crimes are concocted. The commission said it had focused its recent investigations on Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces and found “evidence that Russian authorities committed rapes and sexual violence in a district of Kherson province”.

The commission investigated further reports regarding transfers of unaccompanied children by Russian authorities to the Russian Federation or to areas they occupied in Ukraine. It notably documented the transfer of 31 children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation in May 2022, and concluded that it was an unlawful deportation and a war crime. This March, the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin for overseeing the abduction of Ukrainian children.

Meanwhile, president Volodomyr Zelenskiy, together with top commanders, visited the southern region of Kherson, where they praised Ukrainian troops for defending Avdiivka and Kupiansk, two places where Russia has intensified attacks. “Thanks to all our boys, who powerfully hold the defence and destroy the occupier day after day,” Zelenskiy said in a video posted on the Telegram messaging app. “These days, the Russian losses are really staggering, and it is precisely losses by the occupier that Ukraine needs.”

This month, Russia launched a surprise offensive on the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, which reportedly resulted in serious losses for Moscow’s forces. After initially taking some ground, Russian troops found themselves quickly pinned down as Ukraine responded with counter-battery fire. Avdiivka, a suburb of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, has been on the frontlines since Russia’s first military intervention in 2014. “The initial Russian offensive operations in the Avdiivka area on October 10 also resulted in high verified Russian equipment losses,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington DC-based thinktank that regularly publishes analysis of the conflict, wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “The fact

that Russian forces regrouped and re-launched assaults after the initial attacks suggests that either Russian forces believe they can feasibly take Avdiivka, or that the Russian military command is poorly prioritising offensive operations regardless of cost,” the thinktank added.

Ukraine’s own counteroffensive in the south has been difficult, with Kyiv struggling to expand a breach of Russia’s first defensive line near Zaporizhzhia. Kyiv received a military and morale boost last week when it struck two airbases in Russian-held territory using US-provided long-range ATACMS missiles for the first time.

High-resolution satellite imagery released days after the strikes on an airfield in Berdiansk and another one in the Luhansk region suggested that at least 14 Russian helicopters had been destroyed or damaged, marking one of the worst days for Russia’s air force since the war began.

The UK Ministry of Defence said in its daily memo that it was highly likely the helicopter losses “will have an impact on Russia’s ability both to defend and conduct further offensive activity”.  “Given the current strain on Russian military production, the confirmed loss of any air frames will be difficult to replace in the short to medium term,” the ministry added.


Pjotr Sauer is a Russian affairs reporter for the Guardian.   Previously, he was a reporter covering Russian politics and society at The Moscow Times. Sauer is a Moscow native with a Dutch background. Education: In 2015, he graduated Cum Laude from the University College Utrecht with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History. Subsequently, in 2017 he completed his studies in Russian and Post-Soviet Politics at UCL (University College London). Pjotr is the son of Derk Sauer. Derk is a Dutch media magnate and the founder of The Moscow Times, the first English language paper in Russia. In 2005 Derk sold The Moscow Times to the Finnish Sanoma. Subsequently, in 2017 Derk repurchased The Moscow Times. He claimed that the paper could serve as a great medium for educating people abroad about underreported domestic subjects.In March 2022, Pjotr and his father decided to leave Russia.