New images from Boecha of importance for investigation and prosecution

The images of civilians killed on the streets of Butcha, near the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, caused shock worldwide in early April. Soon, suspicion arose that retreating Russian soldiers had randomly shot civilians dead. Gradually, more and more stories about the situation are surfacing. For example, The New York Times published images today that, according to the newspaper, show that Russian soldiers were involved in executions. What does that information mean for war crimes investigation and criminal cases?

First, look at the images. New York Times reporters who spent several weeks in Boecha got their hands on footage from surveillance cameras and eyewitnesses. It shows two Russian soldiers conducting nine Ukrainian men down the street and the same men being taken to a courtyard. Eyewitnesses said that the men were then shot dead at a Russian headquarters.

Watch the images here:

That footage is from 4 March; drone footage from a day later shows the lifeless bodies of eight men at headquarters. The ninth Ukrainian survived. โ€œI got shot and fell. The bullet ended up in my side,โ€ he tells the journalists. โ€œI acted like I was dead. I didnt move or breathe.โ€ When he didnt hear any voices after fifteen minutes, he ran away.

Importance of Footage

โ€œThese images are very important in inciting prosecution and increasing public pressure to intervene,โ€ says Alette Smeulers, professor of criminal law and criminology of international crimes at the University of Groningen. โ€œThe footage suggests that the conditions were illegal to shoot anyway. In fights, it is allowed to shoot over and over again and there can be deaths. But you cant shoot civilians, especially if they dont fight.โ€

According to Sergey Vasiliev, assistant professor of international criminal law at the University of Amsterdam, the images can contribute to the investigations into war crimes in Ukraine. โ€œThese are currently being carried out by both the Ukrainian authorities (with the help of experts from other countries, ed.), and by the investigation team of the International Criminal Court.โ€

Both Smeulers and Vasiliev say the images provide insight into what happened in the Kiev suburb. The recordings are not only useful for identifying victims, as the newspaper did, but can also help find potential perpetrators. โ€œI suspect the footage makes that easier, as there are a few still images of potentially involved military personnel. That is likely to become part of criminal records in cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Butcha,โ€ says Vasiliev.

Vasiliev cannot say for certain whether The New York Times footage and witness statements are actually included as evidence in criminal cases. โ€œThis depends on court decisions on both admissibility and evidence value, also in the light of the existing evidence and evidence that will be collected in the coming period. For example, it is important that the judges can verify the authenticity and reliability of the images.โ€

The latter also mentions Smeulers. โ€œImages can be manipulated, for example, to put the blame on the other person. Thats why eyewitness statements are so essential. Those people can confirm when and what happened. In the case of The New York Times, the combination of the statements and the images is very strong.โ€

According to Smeulers, the footage seems to confirm that there are war crimes. Vasiliev calls it plausible: โ€œThe images do not show definitively and completely that they are war crimes. But they could be the missing pieces of the evidentiary puzzle in a future criminal case.โ€