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Q&A: Ukraine's Prosecutor General: 'Over 20 Countries' to Investigate Russian War Crimes


FILE - Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin attends the "Ukraine Year 2024" forum in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 25, 2024.
FILE - Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin attends the "Ukraine Year 2024" forum in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 25, 2024.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin spoke to VOA during a visit to Washington about the results of U.S.-Ukraine cooperation in ensuring justice for crimes committed during Russia's war on Ukraine, the importance of U.S. assistance to Ukraine and the ways to make Russia pay for its aggression.

Kostin highlighted cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute war crimes. "Not only Ukraine is bringing war criminals to justice, not only the International Criminal Court, but third countries as well," Kostin said, noting a recent decision by the U.S. government to charge four Russian soldiers with war crimes in Ukraine.

Kostin also argued for seizing sovereign Russian assets to compensate victims of Russian aggression via a compensation mechanism set up in The Hague.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Oksana Bedratenko, Voice of America: What are your impressions from your meetings with American lawmakers and partners in the Department of Justice?

Andriy Kostin, Prosecutor General of Ukraine: In our area of ensuring justice, we see full support with regards to all elements of our system. Talking about specific results — in December last year the United States was the first country to charge four people with war crimes for torturing an American citizen in the temporarily occupied Kherson region [in southern Ukraine]. This is very important because it means that not only Ukraine is bringing war criminals to justice, not only the International Criminal Court, but third countries as well. We are creating a network of over 20 countries to investigate war crimes committed by Russia on Ukraine's soil and there will be more charges issued. The Prosecutor's Office of Lithuania issued its first charges.

Importantly, the United States takes part in the work of 16 prosecutors from six countries that work in The Hague in Eurojust [to] prepare the case materials for special tribunal.

VOA: The U.S. Congress has not adopted the supplemental spending package for Ukraine. Does this have an impact on your cooperation programs?

Kostin: This is a very important question and part of my communication with congressmen and senators. It is very important for assistance to be constant and for us to be confident that the help is there for years to come. The assistance in training investigators and prosecutors is important in the areas, where not only Ukrainian prosecutors lack experience, but also prosecutors in other countries [need training]. For instance, we investigate crimes against the environment as war crimes. Nobody has done this before, not even the International Criminal Court.

In my meetings with senators and congressmen, I try to explain to them that it is important not only to bring the guilty to accountability, but also to stop these crimes from happening. This means weapons, long-range weapons, and air defense to protect the civilian population. If Russia goes further, it will commit the same acts — not on our territory, but on the territory of other countries.

It is important to explain to our partners that the sooner we liberate our land, the fewer war crime victims there will be.

VOA: What should come first: peace or accountability?

Kostin: We are bringing [perpetrators] to accountability even now, while the war is ongoing, and we are not the only ones issuing criminal charges. We have 530 charges and 82 convictions issued by Ukrainian courts. The International Criminal Court has issued two batches of arrest warrants. Our colleagues in the U.S. and Lithuania made some steps and I'm confident there will be more [charges] during this year. So, it is very important for us not to wait for the war to end and do our job already today.

VOA: America is already seizing assets of Russian oligarchs. In Europe, there is a new impetus to discuss seizing Russian assets. However, in some cases, the West appears to not want to take on the responsibility of confiscation over fears of litigation.

Kostin: There is a feeling that we are getting closer to a decision point. It is hard to say whether this will be seizing the assets, or using them as a guarantee to obtain money, which then could be transferred to the Ukrainian state — for instance to the international compensatory mechanism, which is working in The Hague. This is very important, because already in April this year we are expecting the first applications of victims to the registry of losses. Then the compensation commission — another element of the compensation mechanism — will decide who and how much will be compensated. Compensations means money and these should be funds received from arrested sovereign assets of the Russian Federation.

VOA: The U.S. has joined the coalition to return forcibly deported Ukrainian children. What specific steps are expected here?

Kostin: It is very important that the United States has joined the initiative. The more countries with their own capacity to find the kids, the better. This is not always easy. Our American partners help us via a very important project, the Conflict Observatory of Yale University, which helps to identify the location of the children.

Another issue is to prepare a strategy to return the children to Ukraine. There should be regulatory measures, for instance to prosecute such crimes, and also there should be documents adopted at the level of international organizations, like the U.N., to condemn such crimes and demand the return of the children. This is a complicated route, and we wanted the coalition to have happened earlier, but it's important that it has happened, and we hope to return all Ukrainian children. Our goal is to bring everyone home.

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    Оксана Бедратенко

    Вебредакторка, журналістка, економічна оглядачка Української служби Голосу Америки. Висвітлюю теми міжнародних санкцій, економіки воєнного часу, світові тенденції на ринках нафти та газу, новини фінансової сфери. Пояснюю просто складні теми міжнародних відносин, економіки США, України та світу, як в розлогих статтях, так і в коротких графічних відео.

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