Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been trying to get help from the United States and other NATO countries to repel the Russian invasion. He has asked for no-fly zones and other aid. Recently he claimed that Russia is committing war crimes, referencing the assault on Mariupol. Now, the US has stepped in and declared Russia guilty. Further steps are now being taken with NATO to determine what actions to take.
In a statement on Wednesday, March 23, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “Based on the information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia’s forces are committing war crimes in Ukraine.”
The city of Mariupol has been especially hard hit with what officials call “atrocities.” Soldiers and civilians alike have been buried in mass graves while a convoy of those trying to escape stretches for miles. The Russians have not just targeted strategic military buildings, but also hospitals, homes, and schools. A theater that was sheltering hundreds of children was bombed in one attack. Ukrainian officials say that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military have deported thousands of civilians by force into remote Russian cities.
According to a tweet from the United Nations Human Rights Council, there have been at least 2,571 civilian casualties since February 24. The post explained that 977 have been killed, including 81 children, and 1,594 have been injured, 108 of those are children. These were “mostly caused by shelling & airstrikes,” the post said. “Actual toll is much higher.”
Over the weekend, President Zelensky spoke out against the attacks on Mariupol:
“The besieged Mariupol will go down in history of responsibility for war crimes. The terror the occupiers did to the peaceful city will be remembered for centuries to come.”
Blinken, in his statement, described some of the actions that have led the US to this decision:
“We’ve seen numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities. Russia’s forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centers, and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded.”
Last week, President Joe Biden spoke out against Putin, calling him a “war criminal.” On March 16, he declared: “We’re united in our abhorrence of Putin’s depraved onslaught, and we’ll continue to have their backs as they fight for freedom, democracy, their very survival.” The International Court of Justice then ordered Russia to stop attacking Ukraine while it investigates claims of genocide.
Why is Putin attacking Mariupol so aggressively? According to the US State Department, the Kremlin may just be upset that the Ukrainians are putting up such resistance. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on March 22 that there are several theories why Putin’s forces have “brutalized” the population:
“Mariupol is, of course, a strategic location. But there also may be an element of vengeance… against this population, with Putin perhaps having been under the misimpression — whether he was misinformed or just unwitting of reality — that his forces would not be greeted as anything other than the aggressors that they are.
“We have seen the residents of Mariupol rise up to defend their homeland, their country, to defend their territorial integrity the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”
At the time of this writing, Blinken and Biden were traveling to Brussels to hold an emergency summit of NATO leaders to discuss Russia’s war crimes. “We are committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions,” Blinken said.
~ Read more from Kelli Ballard.