Ukraine opens more investigations into possible Russian war crimes

Ukraine has filed eight more war crimes cases to court in addition to three sentences that have already been handed down to Russian soldiers, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said on Wednesday.

Destruction and subsequent hostage-taking in a village in Chernihiv among the incidents being probed

A school building damaged in Chernihiv in northeastern Ukraine is shown on March 4. Dozens were killed the previous day when Russian forces hit residential areas, including schools and a high-rise apartment building. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Updates from Day 105 of the invasion

  • Ukraine files 8 more war crime cases involving Russian troops.

  • Ukraine forces on the back foot in Severodonetsk, regional governor says.

  • Russia says it struck a shipbuilding facility in Black Sea city of Mykolaiv.

  • 2 civilians killed in Luhansk region, Ukraine says.

  • Canada announces fresh round of Russia sanctions.

  • Russia, Turkey continue talks on grain exports, with Ukraine absent.

Ukraine has filed eight more war crimes cases to court in addition to three sentences that have already been handed down to Russian soldiers, the country's prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova said on Wednesday.

Ukrainian authorities have opened more than 16,000 investigations into possible war crimes during Russia's invasion which began on Feb. 24, she said on television.

Moscow denies allegations that its troops have committed war crimes in what it describes as a "special operation" to demilitarize Ukraine.

Venediktova said there were 104 suspects, nine of whom were linked to crimes in a school basement in the village of Yahidne in the northeastern Chernihiv region, where Russian troops kept hundreds of people during their occupation through most of March.

She said that 10 people died from the ordeal of their confinement in the basement and that a small baby and a 93-year-old had been among those held there.

Residents of Yahidne are seen inside the basement of a school, a day after Russian troops left, in the village of Yahidne, near Chernihiv, on March 31. (Submitted by Olha Meniaylo/Reuters)

Venediktova said that a further 16 people were taken out of the basement and shot. She did not say what her evidence was, and voiced disappointment that the nine suspects were not in Ukraine.

"Unfortunately, these people are not located here physically and we are going for an in-absentia trial, but it is very important for us, for Ukrainian justice, for the victims and their relatives to have this legal process," she said.

"Every day we see an increase [in investigations]," Venediktova said. "We are talking about people who didn't just come as military combatants … but also came to rape, kill civilians, loot, humiliate and so on," she said.

Russia denies targeting civilians in Ukraine and rejects accusations that its forces have committed war crimes.

LISTEN | The effort to gather evidence for war crimes in Ukraine: 

An enormous effort is underway to gather evidence of alleged war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine. Investigators from the International Criminal Court, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are on the ground, collecting accounts of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and torture, among other abuses. Today, Belkis Wille, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, talks about what she and her team have found so far, and why she believes it’s important that “people around the world, those in power, but also citizens of Russia, can actually read about what this war looks like and what abuses are being perpetrated.” WARNING: This episode contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.

New deaths reported in Kharkiv, Luhansk

On the battlefield, Ukrainian troops holding out in the ruins of Severodonetsk came under renewed heavy assault on Wednesday from Russian forces who see the capture of the industrial city as key to control of the surrounding Luhansk region.

In southern Ukraine, another major battleground in the war, authorities said Russian attacks on agricultural sites including warehouses were compounding a global food crisis that has stirred concerns of famine in some developing countries.

Workers remove debris from a supermarket in a shopping mall that was damaged by a Russian missile strike in Kharkiv on Wednesday. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

Russian forces have been focused for weeks now on seizing Severodonetsk, which was home to some 106,000 people before Moscow invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The Luhansk region's governor said Ukrainian forces would not surrender the city.

"Fighting is still raging and no one is going to give up the city, even if our military has to step back to stronger positions. This will not mean someone is giving up the city — no one will give up anything. But [they] may be forced to pull back," Gov. Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television.

Luhansk and the adjacent province of Donetsk form the Donbas, claimed by Moscow for Russian-speaking separatists who have held eastern parts of the region since 2014.

Reuters could not independently verify the situation on the ground in Severodonetsk.

President Volodomyr Zelensky's office said two people were killed and two wounded in the Luhansk region in the past 24 hours, five civilians were wounded in the Donetsk region, and four killed and 11 wounded in the Kharkiv region.

'I am going to remain'

Ukraine and Russia each handed over the bodies of 50 of their deceased soldiers in an exchange that included 37 Ukrainian soldiers killed at Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks, the Ukrainian Ministry for Reintegration said on Wednesday.

In a statement on its website, the ministry said the exchange took place on the front lines in the southeast Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia. It said such exchanges would continue.

Civilians are shown leaving the city of Slovyansk on June 4 in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, but others have defiantly chosen to remain in their homes. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

In Sloviansk, one of the main Donbas cities still held by Ukraine, about 85 kilometres to the west of Severodonetsk, women with small children lined up to collect aid while other residents carried buckets of water across the city.

Most residents have fled but authorities say around 24,000 remain in the city, in the path of an expected assault by Russian forces regrouping to the north.

"I am going to remain, I will not leave without my husband. He works here. That's what we decided, we are staying," said Irina, who did not provide her surname, as she waited with a child in a stroller outside an aid distribution centre.

More than seven million people have crossed the border from Ukraine since war broke out there, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

A total of 7,023,559 border crossings have been recorded since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, the agency's tally showed on Wednesday.

The number of individual refugees from Ukraine recorded across Europe stood at 4,712,076, with Poland, Russia and Moldova among the top host countries, it said.

It was not immediately clear how many have returned to Ukraine. Untold numbers have crossed back to return home after Russia began to largely focus its efforts in the Donbas.

Read: Canada announces fresh round of sanctions, related to Russian energy industry:

Another economic forecast is downgraded

The conflict is having a massive impact on the world economy. Ukraine is one of the world's biggest exporters of grain, and Western countries accuse Russia of creating a risk of global famine by shutting Ukraine's Black Sea ports. Moscow denies blame and says Western sanctions are responsible for food shortages.

Ukraine's southern military command cited attacks on farmland and other agricultural sites in the Mykolaiv region as particularly damaging.

WATCH 'It's a nightmare': rail routes for exporting grain problematic:

Ukraine grain exports obstructed by Russian invasion

4 months ago
Duration 2:32
More than 20 million tonnes of harvested Ukrainian grain is stuck inside the country because of Russia's blockade of major ports.

Russia's war in Ukraine and the energy and food crises it worsened will severely drag down global economic growth and push up inflation this year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Wednesday.

The OECD, a club of largely wealthy nations, expects the global economy to expand 3 per cent in 2022, down from the 4.5 per cent that it predicted in December.

Inflation is forecast at nearly 9 per cent for the OECD's 38 member countries, which includes Canada.

"Russia's war is indeed imposing a heavy price on the global economy," OECD Secretary General Mathias Cormann said at a press conference in Paris.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speak after briefing reports in Ankara. (Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey on Wednesday hosted Russia's foreign minister to discuss a United Nations plan to open a corridor in the Black Sea for Ukrainian grain exports. Russia's Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine must first de-mine its ports — a move Kyiv fears would make it more vulnerable to attacks from the sea.

Lavrov said President Vladimir Putin had personally promised not to use the grain shipment issue to benefit Russia's military operation.

Turkey, a NATO member with good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, has been trying to broker peace negotiations.

Ukraine's government is not represented at the Ankara meeting.

With files from CBC News and The Associated Press