A report was submitted to the International Criminal Court, which shows that Russia deliberately caused famine in Mariupol during the siege

Oleksandra Amru

Lawyers from the “Global Rights Compliance” organization, which cooperates with the Ukrainian government, submitted an analysis to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which claims that during the 85-day siege of Mariupol in early 2022, Russia used tactics to deliberately deprive civilians of food and other services.

The report found that in this way, Russia and its leaders intended to harm or kill large numbers of civilians, amounting to a war crime.

The analysis estimated that 22 000 people died during the siege and capture of Mariupol at the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. A few days into the siege, civilians were left without water, gas and electricity, and the temperature then dropped below -10 °C.

“Global Rights Compliance” partner Catriona Murdoch said that the purpose of the investigation was to check whether the Russian military and its leadership deliberately deprived the civilians of Mariupol of food and other basic amenities, that is, whether it was a strategy of starvation, which is a war crime.

"We were able to see that the Russians attacked the city in four phases: first they hit the civilian infrastructure, they stopped the supply of electricity, heating and water to the city; then the Russians began to block humanitarian aid; in the third stage, critical infrastructure objects were attacked, the Russians attacked water supply and humanitarian aid points; and on the fourth stage, Russia launched strategic attacks to destroy and capture any remaining infrastructure,” she said, The Guardian reports.

She said such a phased offensive on Mariupol demonstrated that Russia planned to seize the front-line city with no mercy for its civilian population, estimated at 450 000 people, before a full-scale invasion began on February 24, 2022.

A legal analysis concluded that approximately 90% of the cityʼs health facilities and homes were destroyed or damaged during the siege, while food distribution points and evacuation routes were destroyed.

Given the importance of Mariupol and the centralization of decision-making in Russia, the responsibility for the deaths of thousands of civilians lies with the top political leadership.

"Vladimir Putin and the upper echelons of the Russian military leadership are to blame," says Murdoch.

Although starvation and deprivation of other basic amenities are considered war crimes, this remains a relatively new area of international law, and no suspect has yet been prosecuted for the crime.

Last month, the ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan filed for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant on suspicion of a similar crime. The prosecutorʼs office believes that Galant and Netanyahu are criminally responsible for using starvation as a method of warfare, as well as for intentional harm to health, intentional killing, attacks on the civilian population of Gaza, and other crimes against humanity.

In the aftermath, far-right Israeli finance and national security ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir accused Khan of "anti-Semitism." Karim Khanʼs request was called a manifestation of "hypocrisy and hatred of Jews." Netanyahu said the request for his arrest casts an "eternal disgrace" on the court.

And the speaker of the US House of Representatives Mike Johnson said that the US could introduce sanctions against the ICC if a warrant for Netanyahuʼs arrest is issued.

Murdoch said Khanʼs requests for arrest warrants for Israeli leadership "were the first of their kind" related to the starvation of civilians as a war crime. Thus, this problem became clearer and louder in the minds of lawyers and prosecutors.

Lawyers said they were initially unsure how possible it would be to build a war crimes dossier in Mariupol, as the Russian occupation made gathering evidence difficult.

Then they developed a technique using a specially created algorithm to map the destruction of specific locations tracked by satellites.