A top British international lawyer investigating Russian war crimes in Ukraine has admitted he was “shocked and surprised” at the “level of design” employed by Putin’s security services to “effectively enslave” the Ukrainian civilian populations under their occupation, despite decades of investigating such incidents across the world. Speaking to Express.co.uk, Wayne Jordash KC, who is leading a team tasked with assisting Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General in uncovering, documenting and analysing evidence of war crimes, said they had seen more than 1,000 witness statements concerning Russian torture and that there was compelling evidence to suggest these brutal actions were state-orchestrated.
Mr Jordash’s comments came just moments before the international criminal court in The Hague issued arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights commissioner Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova for the “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children.
The court’s pre-trial judges assessed on Friday there were “reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children”.
Roughly 20 torture chambers have been discovered in the southern city of Kherson and Mr Jordash alleged there was a clear “congruence of purpose” between them, alluding to a state-backed initiative.
The centres were run by the Russian security service, as well as local collaborators, and were designed to subjugate, re-educate or kill Ukrainian civic leaders and ordinary dissenters.
Mr Jordash has claimed the prisoners, both male and female, were subjected to physical beatings, electric shock torture and waterboarding. They were also forced to learn and recite pro-Russian slogans, poems and songs.
When asked how his team, known as the Mobile Justice Unit, distinguished between Russian commanders torturing Ukrainians of their own volition and a state-backed attempt to “whitewash” Ukrainian culture, he said there were two pieces of compelling evidence.
Firstly, he said there were “financial links” that went from the “Russian banks to the civilian administration in Kherson, and from the civilian administration to the security service, who we can then see are in charge of the detention centres”.
Secondly, he said there was an evident “system in place”. His investigations, he claimed, had revealed a “pattern of similar behaviour” where one can see “the same people disappearing to the detention centres, the same type of torture used, the same type of questions being asked of the detainees and the same occurrence of disappearances across the river into Russian-occupied territory”.
This, he said, amounted to a “compelling refutation of the idea that these are ad hoc militias acting on their own folly”.
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But he admitted that the “level of design” involved in carrying out torture on such a widespread scale had “astonished” him, despite decades of investigating genocide and instances of war crimes across the world.
In a decade of running the Global Rights Compliance, and in the preceding years as an international lawyer, Mr Jordash said he had investigated the Rwandan genocide, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the devastation in Syria and Yemen, as well as several others.
He said in all those instances, there was “a mixture of design and excess” involved in the persecution of a population. There was “incidental targeting of civilians, as well as a degree of spontaneity,” he added.
With the Russian occupying forces in Ukraine, however, it appears to have been a “carefully designed plan”.
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From his investigations, he maintains that Russia was deliberately “targeting civilians to take over an area”, before later “targeting anyone who could mount any sort of resistance whatsoever”.
He added that such a process was necessarily “elastic”, meaning that as the occupation grew, and more people were detained, the pool of Ukrainians determined to hold on to their culture and heritage inevitably grew as well.
He said their widespread, co-ordinated torture showed all the signs of an occupying force attempting “to subjugate the civilian population and remove any semblance of a Ukrainian identity”.
“It is an astonishingly ambitious criminal plan,” he said. “If it had been successful, it would have led to millions of Ukrainians being effectively enslaved and forced to adopt an identity that is not one of their choosing.”
Mr Jordash set up the Mobile Justice Team in May last year, having pitched it to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office “within days” of the Russian invasion a few months earlier in February.
He suggested investigations and subsequent prosecutions of Russia for its war crimes in Ukraine would be “decades-long at least”, adding that while the International Criminal Court would issue arrest warrants as part of their own trials, the large burden of justice would fall on the domestic courts.
But, he added, should the trail back to the Russian state from the torture chambers be properly mapped out, it was possible that cases could be brought against the higher-ups in the Kremlin – even Putin.