For over 12 months, Russian aircraft have attacked multiple Ukrainian towns and villages, demolishing healthcare facilities and residential buildings. There has been extensive evidence of Russian war crimes, so Ukrainian law enforcement acted immediately.
In Kyiv, 600 Russians, including high-ranking political and military personnel such as Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, have been identified as being complicit in multiple war crimes. Additionally, the investigation includes a lesser-known colonel who is thought to be linked to several savage aerial assaults against Ukraine.
The Guardian interviewed former military personnel and defense officials and used open-source information to profile some of the commanders and generals that Ukraine has accused of war crimes in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has so far opened two war crimes cases.
The Guardian recently assessed a board used by Ukrainian prosecutors to track evidence of suspected Russian war crimes. The board was 4 meters wide by 1.5 meters tall and featured a diagram of Ukraine’s entire Russian military hierarchy. In addition, it included names and photographs of those under investigation by Ukraine for their possible involvement in war crimes. The chart includes hundreds of Russian soldiers, broken down by regiment, and goes as far as the most senior commander, Vladimir Putin.
“We started mapping the Russian commanders and generals last year,” said Oleksandr Filchakov, the chief prosecutor for the Kharkiv region who, alongside colleagues in other regions, has been working on the board since the Russian invasion. “And we keep updating it, week after week.”
The Butcher of Mariupol: Col Gen Mikhail Mizintsev
The siege of Mariupol in Ukraine was arguably the most destructive battle of Russia’s war there, with the Ukrainian government estimating 22,000 deaths. This tragedy has been likened to the devastation of Aleppo, Syria, where Russian airstrikes leveled the city after Moscow’s involvement in the conflict in 2015 in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Col. Gen Mikhail Mizintsev, a Russian military official subject to sanctions by the British government in March 2022 due to his involvement in the bombardments of two cities, was the head of both Russian campaigns.
Mikhail Mizintsev, nicknamed the ‘Butcher of Mariupol’ in Ukraine, became renowned as Russia’s first National Defence Management Center leader. He was responsible for assembling the impressive command center in the Kremlin’s core.
“I honestly don’t understand all this — I don’t think he has any operational command responsibility here, and he’s not got any particular reputation as martinet or thug that I know of,” said Mark Galeotti, an honorary professor at University College London who studies Russia’s armed forces.
According to Washington Post, “Keir Giles, a Russia expert at the British think tank Chatham House, said that Mizintsev is a senior figure but that he has spent much of the past decades in jobs that were ‘effectively administrative — not just staff posts, but running headquarters, command posts, coordination centers.'”
“So he’s different from the other prominent senior Russian commanders who have mostly had operational on-the-ground experience in Syria,” Giles wrote in an email.
A former defense ministry source, who has collaborated with Mizintsev, described him as a highly efficient organizer. Furthermore, this individual, who asked to remain anonymous, divulged that Mizintsev had strong connections with Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the Russian army.
Military professionals had suggested that when Col. Gen. Mizintsev was in Mariupol, he took advantage of his experiences in Syria, where he was in charge of the savage bombings that left much of Aleppo in ruin.
Putin promoted the most loyal & notorious war crimes suspect called "Mariupol butcher" Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev to the rank of deputy defense minister responsible for supplies & logistics. He may impose terror methods on the entire chain of army supplies in Russian society. pic.twitter.com/e8tJy0xW3V
— Viktor Kovalenko (@MrKovalenko) September 24, 2022
Similarly to Aleppo, Mizintsev first barred the Ukrainian forces from their supply routes and then pushed them back, street by street, as his troops bombed indiscriminately, which kept the civilians from evacuating the city. As a result of his tactics, the colonel general acquired the moniker “the butcher of Mariupol.”
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has been evident that the troops and officers there had many in Syria. Before the war, Yuri Stavitsky, 61, the chief of engineer troops of the Russian armed forces, had achieved fame for overseeing the demining of Palmyra. In 2016, his name was revealed in the Panama Papers leak, and documents from Mossack Fonseca showed that he was the owner of a British Virgin Islands-registered firm called Asante Trade & Finance SA.
“It was a big scandal at the ministry,” said the former defense ministry source. “Stavitsky had to apologize profusely for this hiccup and almost lost his job.”
Cluster Bombing Mastermind
The targeted air raids in Kharkiv are now known as the “Kharkiv cluster bombing.”
The Russian armed forces have drastically affected the lives of the people of Kharkiv’s northeastern area. Illicit armaments have been unleashed on its towns, causing the death of numerous civilians.
Pieces of RBK-500 cluster bombs and 300mm Smerch cluster rockets – forbidden by a vast majority of the world, not including Russia (per a 2008 treaty) – were discovered in places not containing any military personnel or facilities.
The non-profit Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), which is devoted to uncovering human rights violations, has identified not only the locations of cluster munitions’ deployment in Kharkiv and the area of Russia from which they were fired but also the commander behind them. Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov, who was involved in the 2016 Aleppo bombing campaign under Mizintsev, is responsible for the bombings.
In the 1980s, 57-year-old Zhuravlyov was commissioned as a Soviet officer and served three tours in Syria. He was recognized for his accomplishments and given one of the top awards in the Russian military: Hero of the Russian Federation.
Various sources have stated that he was the only high-ranking military official in the Russian western military district in Belgorod who had the authority to initiate a Smerch rocket offensive on Kharkiv.
The Ukrainian army’s unexpected counterattack, which reclaimed nearly all of the Kharkiv region and forced the Russians back to the border, resulted in Zhuravlyov’s dismissal by the Kremlin and him being replaced by Lt Gen Roman Berdnikov.
A Sequence of Lethal Strikes
On June 27th, a Russian Tu-22M3 bomber launched a Kh-22 anti-ship missile from the Shaykovka airbase in the Kaluga region, which struck the Amstor shopping mall in Kremenchuk, Ukraine. At 3:52 pm, the explosion left the building in ruins and caused at least 20 casualties. According to Ukrainian investigators, the attack was conducted by the 52nd Heavy Bomber Aviation regiment, headed by Col. Oleg Timoshin.
Ukraine’s security services have charged Timoshin with being involved in a missile strike on a residential block in the eastern city of Dnipro, killing at least 44 people.
Not much is known about Timoshin. However, some open sources have reported that Timoshin studied at the Tambov Higher Military Aviation School of Pilots and took over the regiment following the death of Col. Vadim Beloslyudtsev in 2019.
Do you know what face pure evil has? Evil is not nameless.
This is commander of the 52nd Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment (Shaikovka),Colonel Oleg Timoshin. The man directly responsible for yesterday's war crimes in Dnipro! I wish him and his family the worst of suffering! pic.twitter.com/l7WpUT9IFQ
— Joanna🇪🇺🇵🇱❤️🇺🇦 (@JoaJuan2) January 15, 2023
According to War and Sanctions, Timoshin is:
“The commander of the military unit of the Russian armed forces, who directly took part in the illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022, among other things, in the rocket attack on the Amstor shopping center in the city of Kremenchuk, Poltava region of Ukraine. Thus, the commander is responsible for the actions of his unit aimed at violent change, overthrow of the constitutional order, seizure of state power, encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine, undermining democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine, threatening its security, sovereignty and independence.”
At the top of Timoshin’s chain of command is Sergei Dronov, the Supreme Commander of the Russian air force, who is in charge of all air-based activities in Ukraine during wartime.
Dronov, born in an outlying area of Ukraine, started as a pilot in the Russian conflict with Chechnya in 1994. He became well-known two decades later when he took charge of the Russian air force in Syria. Then, Russia used aerial assistance in the region, with planes executing constant bombings.
It is widely accepted that Russia’s campaign in Syria was a cost-effective triumph, giving the air force a reputation as one of the top forces on the planet. This was reinforced in 2021 when Dronov revealed that the air force would get more than 60 new planes and 200 updated ones. At the beginning of the Ukrainian war, Russia was said to have over 700 fighter jets in contrast to Ukraine’s estimated 64. Nonetheless, Moscow’s inability to control the skies, which is fundamental to the inadequate performance of their forces in Ukraine, has raised queries about Dronov’s credibility.
“Dronov was known to be hugely corrupt,” said Gleb Irisov, a former Russian air force lieutenant who left the military in 2020. “It is no surprise that Russian aviation failed poorly.”
The Massacre of Bucha
The Bucha Massacre was one of the most tormenting moments of the war, with Russian soldiers attacking civilians, which Ukrainians claimed was a straight-up genocide. According to the latest tally, at least 458 bodies had been recovered from Bucha, 9 of them kids less than 18 years old.
In early April of last year, when Russia withdrew from the Kyiv region, there was massive evidence of crime left behind. Hundreds of corpses were found in multiple mass graves, and more bodies of civilians were discovered under destroyed buildings in Borodianka and Hostomel. In the list of Russian war criminals, one individual, Azatbek Omurbekov, age 40, commanded the troops that reportedly took part in the killing, rape, and torture of civilians, thus earning him the nickname of “the butcher of Bucha.”
Hailing from Soviet Uzbekistan, Omurbekov is the current commanding officer of the 64th Separate Motorised Rifle Brigade. He was awarded for exemplary service in 2014 by Dmitry Bulgakov, the deputy defense minister at the time.
The current whereabouts of Omurbekov is a mystery. Reports vary, with some suggesting he moved his troops to Belarus after abandoning the Kyiv region. In contrast, others speak of his movement to Belgorod, joining forces with other regiments in the Kharkiv area.
Omurbekov, part of the Russian military command, was responsible for following the orders of General Oleg Salyukov, the current chief of their ground forces. As a result, most of the battalions involved in artillery operations and the occupation of towns are within Salyukov’s jurisdiction.
The remains of those affected by the Bucha murders have been taken to a morgue in Kyiv’s north region, where pathologists and coroners are performing autopsies.
Colonel General Sergey Salyukov, at 67, is among the most senior-ranking officers in the Russian armed forces. His name is often associated with the famous Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square each year. However, despite his public presence at the parade, Salyukov is known to lead a relatively private life and is said to have a sizeable impact on the upper workings of the military.
“If you want to make a career in the army, you have to get approval from Salyukov,” said the former defense ministry source.
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