Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of child sexual assault.
Russian forces were responsible for the “vast majority” of human rights violations in northern Ukraine during the early weeks of the war, including attacks on civilians that qualify as war crimes, the United Nations has found.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
In a report published on Tuesday, the three members of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine said they had documented patterns of summary executions, unlawful confinement, torture, ill-treatment, rape and other sexual violence committed in areas occupied by Russian armed forces.
In one of the most disturbing examples, the commission said a four-year-old was allegedly forced to perform oral sex on a Russian soldier in the Kyiv region in March.
The report includes several other references to reported rape cases, with victims said to be aged from four to 80 years old.
Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the claims. Ukrainian officials, rights groups and the UN have previously said Moscow is using sexual assault as a war tactic.
“Perpetrators raped the women and girls in their homes or took them and raped them in unoccupied dwellings. In most cases, these acts also amount to torture and cruel or inhumane treatment for the victims and for relatives who were forced to watch.
“Other incidents of sexual violence were also documented against women, men, and girls,” the report said.
Kyiv’s forces also committed alleged war crimes, the commission said, including two cases of people who were out of action who were shot, wounded or tortured.
After the war began on February 24, Russian forces indiscriminately shelled areas they were trying to capture and “attacked civilians trying to flee”, the report said.
“The impact of these violations on the civilian population in Ukraine is immense. The loss of lives is in the thousands. The destruction of infrastructure is devastating,” Erik Mose, the chair of the commission, said in a statement.
The report covered events in Ukraine’s Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions in late February and March 2022.
EU chief also accuses Russia of ‘war crimes’
The four northern regions the UN focused on have since been fully recaptured by Ukraine, after Russia’s assault on Kyiv failed.
After liberating areas near the capital, Ukrainian troops found bodies in the streets and mass burial sites of those allegedly killed under Russian occupation.
Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians, though it has flattened villages, towns and cities across Ukraine during what it initially called a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbour. Kyiv has said it will punish abuses committed by its own forces but believes the number of such incidents is small.
In further condemnation of alleged Russian abuses, the European Commission’s president on Wednesday decried recent missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian power stations and other infrastructure.
“The international order is very clear. These are war crimes,” Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament. “Targeted attacks on civilian infrastructure with the clear aim to cut off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with the winter coming, these are acts of pure terror and we have to call it as such.”