Illustration photo – Children hide in an anti-aircraft shelter in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 6, 2022.
Prague/Kyiv – He has been in Ukraine practically constantly over the past year. He took photos, talked to local people. Czech criminologist Petr Pojman is trying to monitor war crimes committed by the Russian army in the country. “Only very few international observers participate in the collection of information and evidence, while there should be at least hundreds, but more likely thousands. A lot of things will escape us. And with the passage of time, some will be lost forever,” says Pojman in an interview with ČTK, who is the chairman of the charity organization Team4Ukraine. What scares him the most is that there are a lot of things that are not well known, such as the forced deportations of Ukrainian children.
In Ukraine, Pojman has long-term cooperation with the Kharkiv organization Maidan Monitoring Information Center. While in the past there were projects to support security, cyber security or the protection of children, since the invasion last February, it has focused on monitoring war crimes. For example, he was several times in Izjum, a strategic city occupied by the Russian army soon after the start of the invasion and liberated by Ukrainians last September. “I'm trying to collect information about what's happening there. How, for example, people who lived under Russian occupation for a while saw it. Of course, Ukrainians are also collecting a lot of evidence, but on the one hand, there are not enough of them and they don't keep up with a lot of things, and it is also better if there is always someone independent who has a distance from the events,” said the Czech criminologist.
In the past, he worked in Ukraine in the OSCE monitoring mission, and he would like to systematically collect various materials even now. Also for a possible future war tribunal, which has been talked about recently in connection with the events in Ukraine. “When it comes to various air alarms and rocket impacts, similar attacks can often be well monitored through various radar records and there are also a number of photographs. But we have a different problem, which is also confirmed by people in occupied and de-occupied territories, who talk about the amount of people who were deported from the area by the Russians, and many of them have not yet returned. And it is very difficult to trace back to that. They are often children. And we are talking about tens of thousands of people,” says Pojman.
< p>“I was in Izjum at a time when it was not yet completely de-occupied, there were still some Russian soldiers there, we were there then with the Ukrainian army, and talking with those people then, and then with an interval of several months, these are two qualitatively completely different testimonies And the first one is much better,” says the Czech expert. “Local activists can save it in part, but it's all terribly unsystematic. Any waiting costs us an awful lot of valuable information, and that's a disaster,” he adds.
As Pojman describes, in Izjum, among other things, he had fun with witnesses who lived in the street not far from the later found mass grave. “They said that they suspected something, but that they were afraid to go into that forest. Every day a funeral service went there. Sometimes twice, sometimes twenty times, sometimes fifty times,” they told him. But once their house was hit by a missile fragment and they needed a covering to cover the roof, they went to the forest. They knew that similar things were there. They were afraid, but they knew that it was leaking into their house. “When they arrived there, they discovered a mass grave with the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers. They also ran into the Russians, who then drove them out of there and told them that if they moved in the forest, the dead in the mass grave would follow,” the criminologist describes one of testimony.
According to him, almost everything is shocking in the places where he has been in Ukraine. For example, the extent of destruction just around Izjum, where some villages were practically razed to the ground. “But what scares me the most is that there are a lot of things that we don't know and that relate to the forcible deportation of children,” says Pojman. According to some testimonies, children in the occupied territories were threatened that if they did not come to school tomorrow with new textbooks and learn according to the new curriculum, they would be transferred to Russia and there they would be given new parents. Which in some cases actually happened. “What is happening there with those children is difficult to say. According to some information, some of them are abused in the sex industry. Anyway, we don't know where the children are, and it is only possible to get some information about it through systematic work in the field, which I think that it is not taking place and, above all, there are not enough people to deal with it,” he adds.
As Pojman adds, as a criminologist, in addition to the purely formal collection of evidence, he is also interested in “the sources of deviant behavior of the Russian occupation forces”. “We are faced with the fact that the behavior of those occupying armies is outside our thinking about what is good and evil. Even when it comes to sexual violence. And how they behave with each other within the Russian army, which is made up of different nationalities ,” he says.
His organization Team4Ukraine has been operating in Ukraine since 2014. While he mainly focuses on monitoring war crimes, the main activity of the entire team is now the import of humanitarian aid to the war-torn country. “We used to transport a lot of bulletproof vests and uniforms. Now we are mainly concentrating on the delivery of ambulances and field ambulances for the evacuation of wounded soldiers from the front line,” he explains. As he adds, for example, they recently received two armored trucks from the Czech National Bank, which will also be used to evacuate severely injured soldiers. At the same time, the ambulances do not go to Ukraine empty, but are full of medical equipment and material thanks to the contributions of donors. One of the ambulances recently arrived in Kherson, for example, to a hospital where everything was destroyed or stolen by the Russian army.