washington - The U.S. Department of Justice and FBI are helping Ukrainian prosecutors investigate alleged Russian war crimes committed during the invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S. investigators are gathering evidence of illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia, atrocities against civilians, and alleged crimes against humanity. They also are creating new practices in prosecuting crimes against the environment, cyberattacks, and illicit trafficking of cultural heritage as war crimes.
After Prosecutor General of Ukraine Andriy Kostin participated in U.N. General Assembly events and meetings at the U.S. State Department, FBI, Justice Department and Congress, he sat for an interview with VOA's Ukrainian Service and discussed his team's cooperation with the U.S.
Kostin said there is no international mechanism to help bring home children illegally deported to Russia. He argues that restoring justice for Ukrainian children can help children whose rights were violated in other wars and conflicts. He added that the international community should put more pressure on Russia to demand their return.
In May, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged responsibility for the unlawful deportation of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, but the Kremlin has denied responsibility for war crimes.
The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: This is one of your multiple trips to the U.S. in the last year. Whom did you meet this time and what are the main results of these meetings?
Andriy Kostin, prosecutor general of Ukraine: My meetings with Attorney General Merrick Garland and his team - once again we have substantial support now from not only [the] war crimes accountability team of [the] Department of Justice, but also from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We shared some cases with these two teams - some of them are world-known as a matter of Russian atrocities - and we are looking forward to [receiving] results from this cooperation.
So our work with the DOJ is very wide, substantial in not only for prosecuting war crimes, with our top priority cases like forced deportation of Ukrainian children, but also helping us to create practice in spheres which had never been prosecuted before in history.
We are now prosecuting crimes against [the] environment as war crimes, we're approaching prosecuting cyberattacks as war crimes. And just now we have a very good meeting with a special team from [the] FBI about prosecuting cases on attacks on cultural heritage and illicit trafficking of cultural heritage as war crimes. So we are approaching new ... dimensions of crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine and against Ukrainians.
[The] Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation and all state authorities are assisting us. Not only from the point of view of cooperation in specific cases, but also capacity building, also training of our prosecutors and investigators. Because we [are] approaching new avenues, we have no right to make a mistake. Creating new practice, we need to be sure that the results of our investigations would be credible on the international level and will be accepted by the international community as true, fair justice.
VOA: The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has issued this report that prosecutors and policemen, different law enforcement people, including in your office, are sometimes lacking skills or time, they have too much pressure on them, so there are some problems with the course of those investigations. How are those things addressed?
Kostin: First of all, it's an unprecedented amount of war crimes. ... We have registered [more than 108,000 registered incidents of possible war crimes by publication of the article] and ... many war crimes are underreported because they are still being committed on the occupied territories.
I always tell my prosecutors and all law enforcement authorities that we need to ensure that the quality of your investigation and prosecution should be of a high standard. For us, it's a standard of the International Criminal Court.
It is difficult to investigate, practically impossible to investigate, these number of crimes simultaneously. That's why our main approach is, first of all, to make it a matter of strategic solutions.
And one of the elements of the strategy is combining cases. So, when we understand, for instance, that several missile and drone attacks were committed, for instance, by one unit of [the] Russian army, we can then try to combine these cases into a big one because in this case it will be easier for us to establish a chain of command.
One of the new directions of our efforts is civilian detainees. We all know the criminal cases on deportation of Ukrainian children where their parents are awaiting their children who are kidnapped to Russia. Civilian detainees are the same crime, but ... it's their children who are awaiting their parents who are illegally detained in Russia. And one of our messages during this visit and United Nations General Assembly side events and other events was to raise awareness of the international community. Because we are talking about thousands of people who are illegally detained. We need to return them home. ... We have a lack of international mechanisms. We have some set of international legislation to protect Ukrainian children, but it's not enough to return them back home at the moment.
As I mentioned at one side event of [the U.N. General Assembly], if the United Nations is so active in feeding children of other countries [with] Ukrainian grain, the United Nations should play, could play, a leading role in bringing Ukrainian children home from Russia using all the elements of communication and pressure over Russian authorities to bring our children back home. And this is important not only for Ukrainian children, it's important for many other children in many other countries of the world where their rights are violated.
VOA: Do you feel that you are being heard on an international level and especially in the United States? What is being done right now?
Kostin: As I mentioned, we've been at this side event on deportation of Ukrainian children together with [Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court] Karim Khan. And I spoke after him, and I said we will do our job with Karim. We will deliver more results. But this is not enough to make [Russia] accountable for deportation.
For Ukrainian children, it doesn't mean automatically that our children will be returned home. There is no mechanism which automatically returns children to Ukraine from Russia just because more and more criminal cases will be investigated and prosecuted against those who commit this crime.
Of course, we also will expand sanctions [on] those who are involved in Russia for this illegal activity. What is important for me is that all United States authorities are not only ready to support, they are really helping us, and this is important. I would be really glad to give more details, but when we see results, of course, we will speak about it.
This interview originated in VOA's Ukrainian Service.