Documenting war crimes while under attack. Steps forward towards deserved justice

November 28, 2023

Among the consequences of Russia’s unjustified war on Ukraine is the need and challenge of documenting war crimes while being under attack, as the aggression is far from over.

The EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) Ukraine is committed to reinforcing Ukraine’s capability to seek and obtain justice. To get there, investigations, collection of evidence and forensics is to adhere to the required international standards.

To help with a step forward in the direction of ensuring accountability for the perpetrators of crimes committed in Ukraine, together with the German NGO Global Security Sector Reform Foundation, EUAM supported the organisation of a study visit to Cologne, Germany, for representatives of the National Police Unit, the Office of the Prosecutor General (OPG), and the Pathology Institute of Ukraine. The study visit was financed by the German Foreign Office.

The aim of this study visit was the enhancement of skills and knowledge on large scale crime scenes and mass graves. The visit, lasting one week, took place in the first half of November 2023.

The participants trained with German specialists such as police superintendents, prosecutors, and forensic pathologists from the Cologne University Hospital on Criminalistics and Pathologic Aspects of large-scale (major) crime scenes.

Topics included mass fatalities management and disaster victim identification; Interpol procedures; photography of bodies, body parts and handling of effects/properties; crime scene reconstruction, autopsies, signs of torture and mental stress.

As the Director of the Institute for Forensic Medicine of the Cologne University, Dr Markus Rotschild put it, the week was rather “intense” for both participants and trainers, filled with presentations, practical exercises, and discussions. “The participants seemed highly motivated and interested to receive information on theory and technics of forensic work in the context with mass graves and war crimes”, stressed Dr Rotschild, adding that the important work the Ukrainian colleagues are engaging with at present will be further supported.

One of the participants, the Ukrainian Prosecutor Oleksandr Dakhno, from the Department of the OPG dealing with investigating crimes committed during armed conflict, explained indeed that there is a need at present to deal with “a huge number of war crimes” committed by the Russian armed forces.

“The knowledge and practical experience which we have gained will be useful to our law enforcement agencies in the pursuit of fair punishment of criminals, whoever they are.”, also stated Oleksandr Dakhno.

The Head of the Kyiv Regional Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination, Kostiantyn Voroshylov, underlined how the study visit was an opportunity, for him and his fellow participants, to get acquainted with the up-to-date scientific approaches of German colleagues on conducting forensic examinations. This also included the identification of the bodies of deceased persons during mass disasters or executions.

“We had a unique opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the work of the Institute of Legal (Forensic) Medicine of the University Clinic of Cologne and exchange professional knowledge with the forensic medical experts of the Institute. The knowledge gained during this training experience will be reflected in our professional activities, in particular, on the conduct of forensic examinations related to military actions on the territory of Ukraine”, said Doctor Voroshylov, adding how “sincerely grateful” he is “to the organisers”.

EUAM Ukraine and the European partners, in this case Germany, will continue to support Ukraine on the development, enhancement and implementation of policy frameworks on criminal investigations.

As EUAM Ukraine we strive to contribute to Ukraine’s right to justice.