Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Russian aggression against Ukraine meets the criteria for genocide

By Anastassia Fedyk

Co-authored with Ilona Sologoub (VoxUkraine) and James Hodson (AI for Good Foundation)

Cemetary in Ukraine Cemetary in Ukraine; source: individual diary entry on Svidok.org

As early as April 2022, when atrocities in Irpin and Bucha (Kyiv region) became widely known, Western media began discussing whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine constitute a genocide. Some of them noted that the UN convention requires proof of intent in order to prove a genocide. Some researchers (e.g. New Lines Institute and Tymothy Snyder) argue that Russian actions can be identified as genocide. And while plenty of things can be done unintentionally (even manslaughter), the actions of a state clearly indicate the intent of the state to implement those actions. Unlike a human being, the government machine does not do things under affect or emotions.

Article II of the UN genocide convention specifies the actions, any of which, if “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” constitute a genocide. These actions are:

  1. killing members of the group. Russians not only launched a war against Ukraine, killing members of Ukraine’s armed forces, but also performed extra-judicial killings of civilians and compiled “kill lists” of people (local officials, journalists, activists). These killings are not performed “accidentally,” they are part of the plan. Compiling a “death list” of thousands of individuals requires quite a lot of research, which cannot be done “by accident”.
  2. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. Again, this is done not only on the battlefield. Many people have been seriously wounded during Russia’s deliberate attacks on civilian objects, such as schools, hospitals, and homes (just two striking examples are bombing of the Mariupol theater where hundreds of people were hiding or a missile strike of an apartment building in Dnipro). Russian missiles do not fall on Ukrainians by chance. There is a group of people who calculate the trajectories of missiles targeting Ukraine, there are pilots who carry these missiles into the air and launch them, there is an entire industry of people servicing those planes etc. Clearly, the operation of this machine is not an accident but an intention.
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. Russia systematically attacks Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Russian propaganda workers happily describe how Ukrainians remain without electricity or water. We don’t know how many people died because they could not turn on their life-supporting equipment. What we do know is that there was an intent to destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and leave Ukrainians without vital services.
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. There is evidence that Russian soldiers raped Ukrainian women in order for them “not to give birth to Ukrainians.” There are thousands of such cases, perhaps tens of thousands. This is not a set of isolated incidents, it’s a system.
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Thousands of Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia, many of them without parents. Ukrainian children are forcefully adopted by Russian families. Clearly, you cannot “accidentally” adopt a child. There is a state-supported system of kidnapping Ukrainian children and placing them into Russian families or orphanages, with an explicit goal to erase their Ukrainian identity.

Thus, while it may take years to officially recognize Russia’s actions as a genocide (e.g. by now only 22 countries and the EU parliament recognized the Greate Famine of 1932-33 as a genocide, of them 7 during 2022; and only 7 countries apart from Ukraine recognize the current war as genocide), the points above leave no doubt. Those politicians who implicitly or explicitly support Russia (or argue for some “concessions” by Ukraine) are supporting genocide. Foreign companies that still operate in Russia are financing genocide. The International Olympic Committee’s decision to allow Russian and Belorussian sportsmen to participate in the Olympics is an endorsement of genocide.

This is not a new situation. Hitler had quite a few allies among the European countries, and there were even Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford and other prominent figures in the US arguing for a deal with him. Many countries can find acts of genocide in their history. For example, the Europeans exterminated practically all the native population of the Americas, Belgium committed genocide in Congo in the late 19th century, Canada forcibly assimilated indigenous people (as Russia has also done through the centuries).

Today, we should think about the future. Do we want to live in a world where genocide is impossible? Or do we want to return to the world where a few “large” nations can decide whether other nations will live or die? The genocide-free world requires Ukraine’s unconditional victory and Russia’s ultimate defeat – so that Russia cannot commit more atrocities even if it wants to. This world requires immediate provision of more weapons to Ukraine, including planes and long-range missiles. The only other way the current genocide of Ukrainians can end is with Russia killing all those who identify as Ukrainians (as Stalin allegedly said, “no person – no problem”). This is the end result implicitly supported by those who argue for unconditional “peace.” It would only encourage more genocides in the future.