Putin using starvation ‘merciless’ bid to ‘break’ Ukrainian people

Ukraine: Dashcam captures air strike in Chernihiv

Vladimir Putin is cynically using starvation as a weapon against the Ukrainian people, with Russian troops accused of launching a “merciless” and indiscriminate bomb attack on people simply queuing to buy bread, a British-led investigation has revealed.

The investigation uncovers shocking tactics described by Catriona Murdoch, a British barrister heading up the probe, are part of a calculated Kremlin strategy designed to subject innocent civilians to “inhumane living conditions”.

The Starvation Mobile Justice Team (SMJT), launched at the start of the year, is one of several teams established by international human rights law firm Global Rights Compliance, led by fellow barrister Wayne Jordash KC.

All aim to provide critical support to the Ukrainian Office of the Prosecutor General (OPG) as it keeps track of Russian war crimes, bringing together leading domestic and international experts in the field of international criminal law, mass atrocity crimes investigations and case-building, as well as providing support to victims and witnesses.

The SMTJ is investigating starvation and related violations across Ukraine, initially focusing on the Chernihiv region in the north of the country, which was besieged for three months from late February 2022 to the beginning of April 2022.

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Incidents uncovered since then include air and artillery attacks on critical water infrastructure throughout Chernihiv, and an attack resulting in civilian casualties near to a hospital where people were reportedly queuing for water.

Other alleged atrocities include widespread shelling of residential areas, hospitals and supermarkets, as well as what investigators called a “merciless attack” on a bread queue outside a supermarket in city on March 16, 2022.

Ms Murdoch, who is a partner at Global Rights Compliance, said: “The starvation crimes we are investigating in Chernihiv are the tip of the iceberg in Putin’s calculated plan to terrorise, subjugate and kill Ukrainian people.

“Having recently visited the impact site of the bread queue attack in Chernihiv with our Starvation Mobile Justice Team and seen the progress the OPG has made in investigating the persistent attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure, we are confident that perpetrators can be identified.”

She added: “From our initial investigations into Russia’s starvation crimes in Ukraine, the evidence is pointing towards a deliberate plan carefully designed to undermine and attack the very foundation and societal fabric of Ukrainians, subjecting them to inhumane living conditions.

“It is imperative that these crimes are fully investigated so that we can create a bedrock of truth and a historical record which can be used both to counter Russia’s lies and to find justice for Ukraine’s victims and the survivors of these crimes.”

With specific reference to the bread queue attack, SMJT’s investigations have established that between approximately 7.30am and 9am on the day in question, two queues formed on either side of the SOYUZ store, comprising between 20 and 90 people.

Civilians were then struck by what are described as “high explosive fragmentation projectiles”, with two specific weapons systems likely to have been used in the attack, the 122mm GRAD rocket system and a Howitzer, both of them inaccurate area weapons.

Evidence also suggests Russian drones were operating in the area at the time, hence providing Russian forces with quality imagery of the targets – and therefore civilians being fired upon.

A GRAD rocket, capable of firing 40 rockets in 20 seconds, is specifically designed to clear a one-kilometre square block, and firing such a weapon into a densely populated residential urban area is likely to kill civilians and damage infrastructure, says the SMJT report.

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As a result, roughly 20 civilians killed, 14 immediately, and more died in hospital in the days which followed.

Reports on the numbers injured vary from 26 and 50, with the hospitals also attacked, substantially impacting power supplies and therefore creating challenging circumstances as doctors fought desperately to treat casualties.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been associated with a wide range of other starvation-related tactics, including the siege of Mariupol, the obstruction of humanitarian access to Russian-occupied areas, the pillaging of agricultural machinery and harvests, the shelling of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, and the blockade of ports, the SMTJ says.

Critical civilian infrastructure has also been routinely targeted, including electricity infrastructure, shelters, energy and water supplies.

In April, Mr Jordash described how Russian troops murdered at least 450 civilians, including at least 40 children, during the course of the Bucha massacre shortly after Putin ordered his invasion on February 24.

Mr Jordash told Express.co.uk: “It’s just grim, totally grim. Within Bucha alone, you have over 40 kids killed. You have old people forced onto the ground and bullets in the back of their heads.

“There’s certainly an arguable case for genocide there, I would say, in relation to the targeting of the Ukrainians for no reason.”

Asked whether Putin himself was complicit, he added: “I’m interested in identifying and linking these crimes to the upper political and military leadership.

“There are aspects; one is to look at this through the genocide lens and see where the war crimes and crimes against humanity and the narrative brings you in terms of establishing genocidal intent on the perpetrators.

“And then secondly, where it takes you in terms of how far it goes up the chain of command.

“It’s obvious that Putin was aware of it and it’s obvious that Putin’s instructions were to treat anyone who resists as Nazis and dispose of them.

“And the next step is then to establish whether he encouraged it, whether he planned it, whether he designed it and what was his intent.”

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