By Stefaniia Bern and Anthony Deutsch
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine has accused two Russian soldiers of sexually assaulting a four-year-old girl and gang raping her mother at gunpoint in front of her father, as part of widespread allegations of abuse during the more than one-year-long invasion.
According to Ukrainian prosecution files seen by Reuters, the incidents were among a spree of sex crimes Russian soldiers of the 15th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade committed in four homes of Brovary district near the capital Kyiv in March 2022.
Russia’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Phone numbers listed for the brigade were out of order. Two officials at the Samara Garrison, of which the brigade is a part, said they were unable to give contacts for the unit when contacted by Reuters, with one saying they were classified.
During Moscow’s failed push to capture Kyiv after its Feb. 24 invasion, soldiers entered Brovary a few days later, looting and using sexual violence as a deliberate tactic to terrorise the population, the Ukrainian prosecutors said.
“They singled out the women beforehand, coordinated their actions and their roles,” said the prosecutors, whose 2022 documents were based on interviews with witnesses and survivors.
Most of the alleged atrocities took place on March 13, when soldiers “in a state of alcoholic intoxication, broke into the yard of the house where a young family lived,” the prosecutors alleged.
The father was beaten with a metal pot then forced to kneel while his wife was gang raped. One of the soldiers told the four-year-old girl he “will make her a woman” before she was abused, the documents said.
The family survived, though prosecutors said they are investigating additional crimes in the area including murders during the same period.
President Vladimir Putin’s government, which says it is fighting Western-backed “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine, has repeatedly denied allegations of atrocities. It has also denied that its military commanders are aware of sexual violence by soldiers.
The soldiers were both snipers, aged 32 and 28, the files said, adding that the former had died while the younger, named as Yevgeniy Chernoknizhniy, returned to Russia.
When Reuters asked for the identities of both soldiers, prosecutors provided only the name of the younger man. When Reuters called a number in online databases for him, a person saying he was Chernoknizhniy’s brother said he was deceased.
“He died. There’s no way you can get hold of him,” said the man, crying. “That’s all that I can say.”
Reuters was unable to independently confirm his assertion.
The two snipers were among six suspects accused in the Brovary assaults, which prosecutors say is one of the most extensive investigations of sexual abuse since the invasion.
After the alleged attack on the girl and her parents, the two soldiers entered the house of an elderly couple next door, where they beat them, prosecutors said, also raping a 41-year-old pregnant woman and a 17-year-old girl.
At another location where several families lived, the soldiers forced everyone into the kitchen and gang raped a 15-year-old girl and her mother, they said.
All the victims survived, prosecutors said, and were receiving psychological and medical assistance.
A pre-trial investigation is ongoing into the possible role of superior officials in the Brovary attacks, prosecutors said, in a case adding to growing allegations of systematic sexual abuse by Russian soldiers.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office says it is investigating more than 71,000 reports of war crimes received since Russia sent tens of thousands of troops over the border.
Ukrainian investigators know the probability of finding and punishing suspects is low and potential trials would be mainly in absentia, but there are also international efforts to prosecute war crimes including by the International Criminal Court.
While suspects are unlikely to be surrendered by Moscow, anyone convicted in absentia may be placed on international watchlists, which would make it difficult to travel.
Russia has also accused Ukrainian forces of war crimes, including the execution of 10 prisoners of war.
A U.N. human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine has said that most of the dozens of sexual violence accusations pointed at the Russian military.
So far, Ukrainian prosecutors have convicted 26 Russians of war crimes – some prisoners of war, some in absentia – of which one was for rape.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Stefaniia Bern in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Anton Zverev and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Cawthorne)