The systematic murder of Ukrainians by Russian forces amounts to genocide, according to a native-born Holocaust expert.
Eugene Finkel was born in Lviv in western Ukraine and left the country when his family moved to Israel at the age of 13.
He has written a book on the Holocaust and previously published an article warning commentators and the media against casually using terms such as genocide, which the UN codified into law in 1948.
Still, based on what he saw of the alleged atrocities and the systematic way in which they were carried out, Finkel believes what the world is witnessing amounts to genocide – defined as the willful killing of large numbers of people a particular group of nations or ethnic groups with the aim of annihilating them.
“It’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of things,” says Finkel The Independent.
“The things we’re seeing in Bucha and other places targeting civilians and mass graves that could be labeled as war crimes or crimes against humanity or whatever you want to call it.”
He says these actions must be placed in the context of the Russian state’s rhetoric of its attempt to destroy and take over Ukraine and kill its people.
“The rhetoric alone wasn’t enough for me, and the massacres alone weren’t enough,” adds Finkel, who still has many friends in Ukraine.
“The threshold for me is the combination of this widespread and deliberate violence and the rhetoric. I think that’s proof enough.”
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Finkel was referring to an article published Monday morning by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. The article by the expert Timofei Sergeitsev was entitled “What Russia should do with Ukraine” and spoke of the “final solution of the Ukrainian question”.
“Denazification is a set of measures aimed at the nazified mass of the population who technically cannot be directly punished as war criminals,” reads the article, highlighted and translated by organizations including the BBC Monitoring Service.
In February, the same news outlet published and deleted an article apparently intended to be published once Russia had completed its invasion of Ukraine.
“Without exaggeration, Vladimir Putin has accepted a historical responsibility by deciding not to leave the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations,” reads the article, written by Petr Akopov.
“Western world domination can be considered completely and finally over.”
Finkel says not every Russian soldier on the battlefield will read every tweeted article.
“But they both indicate the state of mind, and they’re a pretty clear intention of what the state wants or what the state is more than willing to tolerate,” he says.
Finkle, author of Ordinary Jews: Choice and Survival During the Holocaustsays Russia may not have embarked on a genocidal plan when it began its invasion of Ukraine.
He said there was evidence that ordinary Russian troops felt they were “welcome as liberators” but quickly found that was not the case.
From Bologna, Italy, where Finkel is Professor of International Relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, he adds, “I don’t think they had that intention, but it has evolved.”
Finkel’s comments come amid a spate of claims made over the weekend about evidence of Russian war crimes in cities like Bucha, where video footage and photos showed many bodies.
Ukraine said more than 50 bodies found in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, were victims of extrajudicial killings by Russian forces. Media organizations have not been able to independently verify the claims, although they have documented many dead civilians found in the area after Russian forces withdrew.
According to Reuters, satellite images showed a 45-foot trench dug in the grounds of a church where a mass grave was found.
The Kremlin has categorically denied all allegations related to the killing of civilians in the city, saying the graves and bodies were staged by Ukraine to tarnish its image.
Russia has announced that it will present “empirical evidence” to the United Nations Security Council of the lies of Ukraine and its Western sponsors.
At the same time, Joe Biden labeled Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal and called for a trial, and many Western nations called for Russia’s expulsion from the UN Human Rights Council.
“In the face of strong evidence of war crimes, including reports of mass graves and heinous slaughter in Bucha, Russia cannot remain a member of the UN Human Rights Council,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted. “Russia must be suspended.”
Carla Del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor of the United Nations war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, called for an international arrest warrant to be issued for Putin.
“Putin is a war criminal,” she told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps in an interview published on Saturday.
Given that all sides in any conflict, without exception, are also engaged in an information warfare in an attempt to spin or control the narrative, Finkel says it’s important that an independent investigation into the alleged atrocities in Ukraine be conducted and the evidence is collected and stored.
However, he says he doubts anyone older will ever be brought to justice for what happened.
“Because that’s the only way we can hold perpetrators accountable, and I’m talking about the high wigs, the Putins, the [Russian defence minister Gen Sergei] Shoigus and the generals, for them, means losing the war and losing power,” he says.
“I just don’t see that anytime soon.”
He adds: “I would be happy if I was proven wrong.”