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Among the ruins of Borodyanka, prosecutors are investigating 400 war crime accusations

Across Ukraine, officials say there are more than 10,000 allegations of war crimes that are being investigated by a multinational team, including dozens of representatives from the International Criminal Court. One of those alleged attacks was on Vitaliy Lusyi, a Ukrainian electrical worker.

Investigators have already identified 220 Russian soldiers as suspects, prosecutor says

Vitaliy Lusyi, 43, says he was tortured by Russian soldiers after they incorrectly suspected he was stealing ammunition from them. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

When Russian troops stormed into Borodyanka, Ukraine, in the intial days after the invasion, Vitaliy Lusyi, 43, said the young soldiers told him they were there to root out Nazis in the community 60 kilometres east of Kyiv. 

But in the days that followed, as large swaths of Borodyanka were bombed and hit by airstrikes, he says soldiers began interrogating him, before torturing him over two days and forcing him to kneel in a shallow hole in the dirt.

 "I was thinking of how to stay alive," said Lusyi in an interview outside of his family home. "They were beating me hard and everything was in pain."

The electrical worker, who remained behind in Borodyanka to feed his chickens while many members of his family fled to western Ukraine, was visited by investigators twice since the community of 13,000 was liberated at the end of March. 

His case is one of more than 400 that local prosecutors are looking into in Borodyanka alone. 

Ukrainian officials say Russia deliberately bombed civilian area in Borodyanka. Piles of rubble are now a common site in the community 60 kilometres east of Kyiv. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Across Ukraine, officials say there are more than 10,000 allegations of war crimes that are being investigated by a multinational team, including dozens of representatives from the International Criminal Court.

The process may take years

While the country has seen its first war crimes case go to court, with a 21-year-old Russian tank commander pleading guilty to killing a 62-year-old man on a bicycle,  prosecutors say it will be exceedingly difficult to track down Russian soldiers at the centre of the ongoing investigations.

The process will likely take years. 

Borodyanka suffered through some of the most devastating damage in the Kyiv Oblast, where multi-storey apartment buildings have collapsed into piles of rubble. 

In a report released by Amnesty International on May 6, the organization said Russian airstrikes hit eight residential buildings in Borodyanka in the first two days of March, killing at least 40 people. 

Ivan Zaharchenko, 78. His building came under attack, and he has been living with his daughter and son-in-law. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

The report called the attacks "disproportionate and indiscriminate, and apparent war crimes," given that the Russian military had to realize civilians would be in the residential buildings. 

In Lusyi's case, he said the Security Service of Ukraine has twice visited his home to collect statements about his experience, but he isn't convinced anyone will be held responsible. 

CBC News wasn't able to independently corroborate Lusyi's account, a challenge in a wartime environment. 

Lusyi said that the Russian soldiers had been shooting at his home, and pointed to what appeared to be bullet holes in a front door and inner wall. He also showed CBC News a lock that had been on that front door but now had a bullet lodged in it. 

He frequently saw the Russian soldiers, he said, as they parked a military vehicle near the end of his driveway. But on March 16, they started accusing him of stealing their bullets, he said.

Rescuers work among remains of a residential building destroyed by Russian shelling in Borodyanka, on April 8. Ukrainian officials say Russian airstrikes deliberately targeted civilian areas. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

'I could barely breathe'

When he denied taking ammunition, Lusyi said he was handcuffed and a bag was put over his head. He said he was driven to another location, where he was interrogated while soldiers fired a gun between his knees in an effort to scare him. 

"The horror started when they put the bag on my head, taped it so that I could barely breathe."

At one point, he said a soldier took his shoes away and forced him to kneel in a dirt hole for hours, where he said he cowered in pain from an earlier beating. 

Afterward, he said he was brought to a basement, and a soldier told him he was going to shoot him. Then, he was suddenly taken outside and released. 

WATCH | Ukraine says civilians targeted in Borodyanka:

Borodyanka residents question why Russians targeted them

2 months ago
Duration 2:24
WARNING: This video contains graphic footage | Search and rescue efforts continue in Borodyanka, Ukraine, as residents question why they were hit hard by Russian forces in a town with no military base.

Russia, which insists its invasion of Ukraine is a special military operation, has denied that it is intentionally targeting civilians.

220 suspects in war crimes

Stanislav Kozynchuk, a prosecutor with the Kyiv regional prosecutor's office, told CBC News that his team has identified more than 220 Russian soldiers who are suspected of committing war crimes in Borodyanka.

The cases range from soldiers destroying buildings, shooting at vehicles and killing civilians. 

"The most difficult thing is that these people who we are looking for are out of Ukraine or they are still on the battlefield," Kozynchuk said. "These are areas not under our control."

Canada's ambassador to Ukraine, Larisa Galadza, tours the destruction in Borodyanka with local prosecutors investigating allegations of war crimes. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

On May 19, Kozynchuk was part of a brief tour involving Canada's ambassador to Ukraine, Larisa Galadza, who only recently returned to the country after Canada's embassy was relocated to Poland just prior to the invasion. 

Galadza met with war crimes prosecutors, including the head of the team from the International Criminal Court. 

"We talked … about how important it is for Ukrainians to have this opportunity so soon," the ambassador said. "The war is still being waged in the country, but they have access to justice."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Briar Stewart is the Moscow correspondent for CBC News. She has been covering Canada and beyond for more than 15 years and can be reached at briar.stewart@cbc.ca or on Twitter @briarstewart

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