Since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, millions of war-experienced people have come to Poland. Some of them have come to know the worst face of this invasion - the piling-up examples of Russian war crimes. That is why, as part of documenting them, we have been trying for a year to reach out to people who experienced this assault. We have already conducted dozens of interviews. Nikita Grekovich of the HFHR's East Department summarizes the documentation process.
In the first half of 2022, civilians would opt for the deadly crossing of the front line in order to reach Ukrainian-controlled areas. This was the case until the summer when the Russian authorities made it impossible.
We already know that some people are not leaving the country voluntarily. With the front line closed, most of those forced to leave their homes are now travelling through Russia to reach Poland via Belarus, Latvia or Estonia. One of the areas on which our documentation focuses is precisely the so-called 'evacuation' of the Kherson region in the summer and autumn of 2022, during which the occupying authorities of the Kherson region persuaded or forced the inhabitants of the region to leave for Russia.
The largest number of testimonies collected by the HFHR comes from the Donetsk region, followed by the Kherson and Luhansk regions. We are collecting all the stories. The more there are, the more coherent the story is about the reality of life under the Russian occupation and the violations committed during this war.
Initially, people arriving from Ukraine say: "I was still lucky - I didn't see anything special, I didn't experience anything", but we soon learn that these people lost their homes or had to hide from mobilisation. From their perspective, they were lucky, because no one stopped them at the border or made them take off their clothes during the inspection. We also talk to people who were not so 'lucky'.
We are documenting their stories to provide information about the crimes to international judicial bodies such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague. As part of the 5AM Coalition, which brings together 30 Ukrainian NGOs, we are sorting through the collected interviews to establish the truest and most complete picture of the events after 24 February 2022.
During these twelve months, the Foundation has also supported colleagues from Ukrainian NGOs who, under extremely demanding conditions, continue their work in defending human rights, building civic society and documenting the crimes committed during this war.
In addition to the documentation process, HFHR provides legal assistance in Poland to people fleeing Ukraine, actively participates in the legislative process and hosts regular training sessions on existing protection laws. Shortly after the outbreak of war, the HFHR also organised a monitoring mission at border crossings and reception centres.
Nikita Grekowicz - a journalist cooperating with OKO.PRESS, specialising in Eastern Europe. Graphic designer and illustrator. Associated with the Free Belarus Initiative Association since 2009, member of the Association's Board of Directors in 2019-2021. He has been with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights since 2022.