Ukrainian MPs have detailed the “medieval” tactics used by Russian forces, including sexual violence, as the Kremlin continues its brutal invasion of the eastern European country.
Accusing Putin’s army of “crimes against humanity”, the parliamentarians outlined reports of elderly women being raped and executed, children with post-traumatic stress, and cities cut off from basic necessities.
They said as a result of the Russian president failing to achieve his objective of flying Russian flags from the Ukrainian Parliament, in Kyiv, he had “shifted his strategy” to target women and children.
The four MPs — Lesia Vasylenko, Alona Shkrum, Maria Mezentseva, and Olena Khomenko— were given special dispensation to leave Ukraine by the president, Volodymyr Zelensky, with men under 60 currently forbidden to leave the country.
Describing the humanitarian catastrophe in Mariupol, a city that has been under continual bombardment from Russian artillery, Ms Vasylenko said 80-90 per cent of all buildings have been shelled or damaged.
“The tactics Russia uses on Mariupol is medieval, siege tactics,” she told journalists at a briefing in Parliament on Thursday.
“The city is besieged in the worst tradition of medieval times. People are deprived of food, people are deprived of water. For 14 days it was impossible to get into that city”.
After the shelling of a bomb shelter in a Mariupol theatre — an attack which has been internationally condemned — the Ukrainian MP said many were wounded, with an estimated 1,000-1,500 seeking shelter.
She added the green, humanitarian corridors brokered by negotiators to allow people to flee, were a “no-go zone” and had “turned red with the blood of the people” with Russian forces opening fire on civilians.
Ms Vasylenko said they were witnessing atrocities “against the most vulnerable of the vulnerable”, including reports of women being raped in cities that have been hit the hardest in the vicinities of Kyiv.
“These women are usually the ones who were unable to get out,” she said.
“We’re talking about senior citizens of Ukraine. Most of these women… have either been executed after the crime of rape, or they have taken their own lives. The main problem is that victims and families do not have the strength or capacity to come forward.”
She urged the British government and humanitarian organisations to give assistance to the families of the victims to be given expert assistance and ensure the crimes are “properly documented” for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — the judicial organ of the UN.
“It’s an extremely painful topic for us to take up,” the MP added. “Unfortunately it’s still the very beginning of the atrocities that will go on. Putin’s army is committing war crimes, and crimes against humanity.”
Ms Vasylenko said some children, who had crossed the border, were now experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, saying: “Putin has stolen the childhoods from millions of children across Ukraine.
“We will see a generation of Ukrainians grow up with the burden of war already on their shoulder.
“Thousands of babies are being born every day, and the first thing they see and they hear is the missiles and sirens, and they have to spend the first hours of their life in basements.
Her colleague Ms Mezentseva also described her constituency in Kharkiv – another Ukrainian city left in ruins from Russian shelling as “unrecognisable” with her favourite cafes and shops “completely ruined”.
But she said: “Even though my team remains in Kharkiv, as I sit here I’m receiving the best messages I might get through this day — 20 tonnes of food has just arrived from Western Ukraine.
“We’re delivering that to the people. They’re sending me a photo of a lady who spent two weeks in a bomb shelter, in her toilet, with just several bottles of water. But she survived.”
Ms Shkrum, who travelled two days to reach the UK from Kyiv, added: “This is the worst of times, and this is also the best of times, if that makes sense. I’ve felt, and I feel, super inspired, having seen so much good from people, so much bravery and so much unity. I think it just brought the best of the whole nation.
“The feeling is completely unreal of what is going in... we will come so much stronger on the other side.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies