Is Russia Committing Genocide in Ukraine?

ukraine russia genocide

Ronaldo Schmidt/AFP/Getty

A man looks at burnt trucks on a street of Irpin, near Kyiv, April 1, 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

There is a real danger that Russia will commit genocide in Ukraine. As evidence of war crimes emerges, there is reason to believe that it may already be taking place.

“Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement dated March 23, 2022. Blinken cited Russia’s destruction of “residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and critical infrastructure” at a maternity hospital as evidence for his claim in the besieged city of Mariupol, marked with the Russian word for children.

According to the United Nations, Russia has killed at least 1,189 civilians and injured 1,901 other Ukrainians since it began its attack on Ukraine in February 2022. This actual death toll is likely much higher.

Such attacks on civilians during a conflict are considered war crimes under international law.

But war crimes are also often associated with other atrocities – a legal term that also includes ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide.

And indeed, there is evidence that Russia has also committed crimes against humanity or widespread attacks on the civilian population of Ukraine. These attacks include killings, enforced disappearances, rape and torture.

This includes the mass deportations of Ukrainians to Russia that the Kremlin is reportedly conducting in eastern Ukraine.

Some observers warn that this violence has the potential for genocide, especially given Russian propaganda and the physical destruction of Mariupol and other cities.

Ukrainian officials claim the genocide has already begun. “The airstrike on a children’s hospital,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on March 9, 2022, “is the ultimate proof that a genocide is taking place in Ukraine.”

Other experts disagree, sometimes arguing that Russian violence does not meet the legal requirements of genocide.

However, given the scale of Russian violence in Ukraine, genocide warnings must be taken seriously.

The field of genocide studies, in which I have worked for a long time, has developed frameworks for assessing the threat of genocide in such volatile situations. These instruments, including one from the UN, indicate that Ukraine does face a significant risk of genocide.

Historical precedent

ukraine russia genocide

GettyPeople help an elderly woman in a wheelchair as they flee the town of Irpin, west of Kyiv, March 7, 2022.

Genocide refers to “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

These acts are not just about killing people, but trying to destroy the target group by “causing serious physical or mental harm,” creating harsh “living conditions,” preventing births, and forcibly transferring children “to another group offset”.

A predictor of genocide is a history of mass human rights violations and atrocities, including genocide.

Russia has a long history of mass violence against Ukrainians and other groups.

Perhaps most infamously, the Soviet Union enacted a land policy that led to food shortages and famine, killing millions of Ukrainians in 1932–33. This is known as Holodomor, a Ukrainian word meaning “death from starvation.”

Other Soviet atrocities include the forced deportation of national and ethnic groups and massive political purges.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia committed mass violence against civilians in Chechnya, Georgia and Syria. It bombed and razed cities like Grozny in 1995 and Aleppo in 2016.

Political upheaval

ukrainian genocide russia

Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesTwo boys with a bag of potatoes they found in Ukraine in 1934 during the man-made Holodomor famine.

Genocide and atrocities are also strongly correlated with political upheavals, particularly war. Such upheavals destabilize a society and make it less secure – particularly for vulnerable groups who can be blamed for political or economic instability.

Genocide has taken place during global conflicts, as exemplified by the Armenian Genocide during World War I and the Holocaust during World War II.

And then there are genocides related to colonial conquest and invasion, like the destruction of indigenous peoples in North America.

Countries like China and Cambodia have also carried out social engineering projects that resulted in genocide.

Russia has experienced a series of political upheavals, including a recent economic crisis. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the type of armed conflict often associated with atrocities.

Ideology & Demonization

Genocide is justified by propaganda and language that devalues ​​and demonizes the target population. Historical examples abound, ranging from European colonial caricatures of indigenous “inhumans” and “savages” to Nazi depictions of Jews as rats.

Russia uses this type of demonizing language to justify its invasion of Ukraine. First, Russia presents its violence as necessary to “denazify” Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin, for example, has described the Ukrainian leadership as a far-right “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis”.

And second, Putin has implied that Ukrainian identity is not real and that historically, “Russians and Ukrainians are one people – one nation, in fact.”

Understand the risk

Proving genocidal intent is difficult, especially in court. This is evident in current debates – including an ongoing court case at the International Court of Justice – over whether Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

But it can be inferred from patterns of violence consistent with the legal definition of genocide.

[There’s plenty of opinion out there. We supply facts and analysis, based in research. Get The Conversation’s Politics Weekly.]

Did Russia Commit Genocide?

Russia has attacked and killed civilians and reportedly forcibly returned hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, including children, to Russia. She bombed a maternity hospital.

Russia has also created “harsh living conditions” in parts of Ukraine. It has destroyed electricity and water supplies, deprived Ukrainians of food and humanitarian aid, and displaced more than 10 million people inside and outside Ukraine.

Russia is attempting to conquer and Russify the Donbass and other parts of eastern Ukraine where, taking Putin at his word, an “imaginary” Ukrainian identity is being erased.

There is a significant risk that Russia will commit genocide in Ukraine. It is possible that genocide has already begun.The conversation

By Alexander Hinton, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology; Director, Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, Rutgers University-Newark

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. Is Russia Committing Genocide in Ukraine?

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