A Ukrainian activist who met then Vice-President Joe Biden eight years ago and pleaded with him to provide more military aid to her country, believes Russia may not have invaded her country and committed war crimes has he done so.
Oleksandra Matviichuk, a lawyer who heads the Kyiv-based Center for Civil Liberties, recently posted a photograph showing her talking with Biden in April 2014.
Matviichuk said the vice president had met with civil society group members such as her, and asked how Washington could help. At one point, she says, she and Biden were speaking alone.
“It was a very quick conversation. And he asked me, ‘What can the United States of America do for Ukraine’,” Matviichuk tells The Independent.
“And I answered ‘Give us weapons’. And now I repeat this call. Maybe it’s very surprising for a human rights lawyer.”
She adds: “But my goal is not only to collect the evidence of war crimes, my main goal is how to stop the war crimes – to stop war crimes [happening].”
Speaking from Kyiv, Matviichuk, 39, says she has spent the past eight years collating evidence of war crimes, focusing on the pro-Russian territories of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine that have been the location for constant low-level conflict, since Vladimir Putin announced in February 2014 he would recognise them as independent.
Moscow also sent arms, fighters and money. At the same time, he seized control of Crimea, which was similarly part of Ukraine.
Putin has alleged it was war crimes inflicted on the residents in those two Russian-speaking areas, an accusation denied by the Ukraine government in Kyiv, that led him to launch his so-called “special military operation”.
Matviichuk says in the four weeks since the invasion, she and a small team have been collating first-hand evidence of war crimes committed by the Russian troops, allegations denied by Moscow.
“Russia uses war crimes as a tool of conducting this war. And that’s why this action has a very systematic and large scale character. And there are a lot of evidence,” she says.
Matviichuk says the Geneva Conventions prohibit the intentional targeting of civilians during conflict. Yet, she says there is widespread evidence, captured by video footage and photographs, that show residential buildings in cities such as Mariupol and Kharkiv being repeatedly struck by Russian planes and artillery.
Last week, officials in the southern city of Mariupol said up to 300 people had been killed earlier this month when Russian forces struck a cinema theatre that 1,300 civilians were using as a bomb shelter.
The Russian word for “children” had been written in huge letters on the ground, with the intention to alert planes flying overhead. Russia has denied responsibility and claimed – without providing evidence – the attack was staged by Ukraine.
Matviichuk says she believes the Russian tactics are intended to demoralise and terrify the Ukrainian population.
“They want to stop the local resistance. As I understand it, [the Russian troops]became victims of their own Russian propaganda. They were sure they will face only the Ukrainian army,” she says.
“But they’re faced with the whole Ukrainian nation.” (Source: Independent UK)