The discovery of Izjum’s grave in Ukraine shocked the world, and talk of torture quickly spread – Helena Ranta knows if the rumors can be trusted

EPN in Eastern Ukraine People are very worried This will

Izjum, located in northeastern Ukraine, became the center of attention in the war started by Russia, when the graves of around 450 deceased were found on the outskirts of the small town.

During the Russian occupation, the conditions in Izjum were harsh. The torment of the residents, which lasted about half a year, ended less than two weeks ago, when Ukrainian forces regained control of Izjum as part of the counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region.

The bodies were found shortly after the liberation of Izjum in a pine forest north of the city.

It is not yet known how and when the deceased found in the graves died. According to the governor of the region, some of the bodies showed signs of torture and tying.

Professor and forensic dentist who investigated war crimes Helena Beach emphasizes that only a thorough investigation of the cause of death can reveal what the fate of the deceased in Izjum was.

Ranta states to that possible signs of torture can be verified in a forensic examination. Visual observations are not sufficient proof.

– There has been a lot of talk about torture. However, I would emphasize that it is necessary to investigate very carefully whether the deceased were tortured or not. It must be investigated whether there are indisputable signs that they were tortured.

Possible bullets are found in the body

If the dead have been shot, it will probably be found, because the bodies have been buried for less than six months.

In the forensic examination, the body is examined for, among other things, possible bullets and their remains. The clothes on the deceased are also examined and checked to see if there are papers in the pockets that help in establishing the identity.

Ranta considers it important that in Izjum it is investigated, among other things, whether the dead were shot with flechettes, i.e. arrow ammunition, which according to international law cannot be used in battles in population centers. Injuries caused by arrow bullets were found among the victims of the Butša massacre.

A dart projectile is a projectile containing arrow-shaped bullets that disintegrates in the air. When the projectiles hit, they cause serious injuries to a person.

– This is a multi-cause and long-term investigation that requires multi-professional expertise. There must be forensic doctors, forensic anthropologists, forensic dentists, imaging specialists, photographers and so on. Ballistics can also play an important role, Ranta states.

It is still possible that the traces of torture are no longer visible on the body.

– The condition of the deceased is apparently quite variable. Some bodies are already well decomposed. This is influenced by the fact that the deceased were reportedly not packed in plastic bags, but in blankets.

Most of the dead in Izjum were civilians

The majority of the dead found in Izjum were civilians. According to local authorities and residents, dozens of those buried died in a Russian missile strike that hit the residential building.

There were also soldiers’ bodies in the graves. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi has said that some of the soldiers found had been tortured.

Ranta considers it possible that ex-combatants who fell victim to Russian reprisals are also buried in the area.

– Russian troops had lists of men who fought in the Donbass region in 2014. Some of these men are missing.

– Identifying the deceased is very important both legally and for the relatives of the missing. This is a long, time-consuming and humanly very heavy process.

In 1999, forensic dentist Helena Ranta led a team of investigators in Račak, Kosovo, where 45 Albanian civilians were killed by special forces of the Serbian police.

In addition to Kosovo, Ranta has led investigation teams in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq and Nepal, among others. The groups have investigated the causes of death and possible human rights crimes and collected information for the identification of the deceased.

It was not a mass grave, but a grave area

The Izjum grave discovery was initially called a mass grave. It was later clarified that it is an area with a lot of graves.

Most of the graves have one deceased. There are numbered wooden crosses on top of the graves. Some crosses also have a name written on them.

Some of the graves found were quite new, some of the deceased were buried in the early stages of the war of aggression started by Russia.

According to the Ukrainian authorities, one mass grave containing 17 bodies has been found in the area. According to some sources, there were soldiers in the grave, and according to other sources, both soldiers and civilians.

Ranta believes in a sufficiently high-quality investigation of Ukraine’s resources

Examining the approximately 450 bodies found so far requires a lot of resources and time. According to Helena Ranna, it will take at least a month to lift all the bodies.

Ranta says that enough professionals and resources have been brought to Izjum to ensure a high-quality investigation.

In addition to Ukrainian researchers, there will be researchers from the European Organization for Security and Cooperation, OSCE, and the International Criminal Court, ICC. Many also want UN observers in Izjum.

However, the responsibility for the investigation always rests with the local authorities.

– I believe that the investigation will take place in accordance with internationally accepted rules and recommendations.

A problem can be whether the cold storage facilities are sufficient.

– It is important that the condition of the bodies does not deteriorate further during the investigations. One option would be to deep-freeze the dead and examine them when there is a chance.

Cold storage containers may be sent to Ukraine. Ranta does not believe that the dead would be transferred abroad for examination.

He considers it important that a thorough investigation is done quickly.

– I believe that it is in everyone’s interest to find out as soon as possible what happened there and what was done to the deceased. Whether all the information is made public is another matter.

“Faking evidence would be very difficult”

Ukrainian authorities have been rather tight-lipped about the details of the grave discoveries. Exact information cannot be made public until the investigations are sufficiently advanced.

– It is not good to give preliminary information about the evidence based solely on what you have seen. Everything must be based on accurate forensic examinations, says Ranta.

Also, investigations into the cause of death of the victims of the Butša massacre, which was revealed near Kyiv in April, are still ongoing.

According to Ranta, the Izjum crime scene investigation has seemed well organized. The presence of foreign researchers is also important to ensure an independent investigation.

– You have to remember that there are an awful lot of graves and Izjum is at the center of the world’s attention. Manipulation of evidence would be very difficult.

In all stages of the investigation, it is important to document who has been able to process the material.

– It is very difficult for a court, be it national or international, to accept evidence if there are gaps in the examination of the evidence.

Major war crimes trials are only years away

The legal processes of the war started by Russia will take a long time.

– The wheels of justice turn very slowly in such cases. On the other hand, a lot has certainly been learned from the Balkan wars as well as from many other larger human disasters, Ranta estimates.

It is not yet known in which court the war crimes will be heard. In the case of Russia, the International Criminal Court is probably out of the question.

– National courts are one possibility. Some trials have also been held in third countries in the past.

There have also been proposals to establish a separate court to deal with war crimes committed in Ukraine.

– That is one option, but it would take time and be expensive. We are thinking about it very carefully.

Forensic dentist Helena Ranna also has experience in war crimes trials. He was a witness to the former president of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic at the trial in The Hague in 2003.

Ranta is pretty sure that more massacres will be revealed in Ukraine.

– Unfortunately, it is likely that more similar graves will be found. It tells about the evil of man. It’s hard to describe in words.

The Kremlin has denied that Russian soldiers committed atrocities in Izjum or Bucha.

In this article you can read the latest information about Russia’s war in Ukraine

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