Ukraine prosecutor opens investigation into Russian air strikes

Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Kostin addresses the colleagues before voting for his appointment as the Prosecutor General, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine July 27, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Klymenko

THE HAGUE, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Ukraine's top prosecutor said on Thursday his office had opened criminal proceedings relating to Russian missile strikes that struck Kyiv and cities across Ukraine this week.

Speaking at a joint press conference with International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan in The Hague, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin described the strikes since Monday as "a classic act of terror" by Russia.

He said the more than 112 Russian missile strikes, Moscow's biggest aerial offensive since the start of its invasion on Feb. 24, had killed 17 people and injured 93.

"The goal of Russia's deliberate attacks is to cause civilian deaths and to destroy civilian infrastructure, (and) by shortage of electricity and heating, provoke a humanitarian catastrophe," Kostin said. "Coupled with the intimidation tactics against civilians, it's a classical act of terror prohibited under international law."

Every death and injury or damaged building will be documented and criminal proceedings opened, he said.

The Russian defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia has repeatedly denied deliberately attacking civilians in Ukraine. Moscow also denies violating international law and has dismissed allegations by Kyiv that Russian soldiers have carried out war crimes.

In the recently liberated Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine prosecutors have found at least 11 burial sites, including one mass grave near the town of Izium, and have exhumed 457 bodies across the sites, Kostin said.

An additional two mass graves were found in the Lyman region with some 154 people, Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, buried there, he added.

The prosecutor's office has 28 investigative teams on the ground in the recently liberated regions, where Kostin said retreating Russian troops had left evidence of illegal detention and torture of civilians and illegal deportations.

ICC prosecutor Khan praised his Ukrainian counterpart and his own ICC investigation team on the ground for continuing to do their jobs "as missiles rained down" this week.

Khan, who opened an ICC investigation in March, would not be drawn when asked when his office expected to file its first case, saying he would only move forward "when the evidence is sufficient".

Khan and Kostin spoke after meeting the Eurojust European prosecutor's organisation, which set up a joint investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine with the participation of Ukraine, the ICC and six European Union countries.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, Editing by William Maclean and Gareth Jones

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