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Olexandra Matviichuk is fighting for accountability for war crimes in Ukraine


A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize says she is determined to record the atrocities of war. Olexandra Matviichuk heads the Centre for Civil Liberties based in Kyiv, Ukraine.

OLEXANDRA MATVIICHUK: We have an ambitious goal to document in chronological order each episode of war crimes which was committed by Russian troops in the smallest village in each oblast in Ukraine.

INSKEEP: She's been doing this work since Russia first seized Ukrainian territory back in 2014. This year, she's had far more to do. And this week, she visited Washington to talk about her work.

MATVIICHUK: All Russians who have committed these crimes, as well as Putin and the rest of senior political leadership and high military command, will be brought to justice. The law doesn't work, but I do believe that it's temporary.

INSKEEP: To the extent that you can say, without endangering someone who gave you information, of course, what is an example of how you learn of an incident behind enemy lines and then how you go about trying to document it?

MATVIICHUK: We received information from people who left these territories and can provide us the firsthand information about their experience. So we monitor open sources. These need verification, and there is a special protocol when you verify information. A lot of digital tools exist, which people couldn't even dream during the Second World War. Now when you have your phone, you can make your own photo and video, which can be very essential evidence in the future courts. But what has not developed so quickly as a technology is international criminal responsibility. Here we have a gap in which we're working on for current moment.

INSKEEP: What is the gap?

MATVIICHUK: The gap is in situation when Ukrainian legal system is overloaded with an extreme amount of crimes. And the best office of general prosecutor in the world couldn't cope with 42,000 of criminal proceedings. And International Criminal Court will limit its investigation only for several select cases. And this is a question which - here on the table (ph) - for whom do we document all these episodes of war crimes for? Who will provide justice for hundreds of thousands of victims who will not be lucky to be selected by International Criminal Court?

INSKEEP: And when you say the International Criminal Court is not enough and the Ukrainian courts are not enough, do you want some new or different tribunal to be created for this situation?

MATVIICHUK: I will try to emphasize that the activities of International Criminal Court is important, but they will focus on it of several cases in total. And international tribunal is a model, how to make national systems stronger because it can be designed like a platform where national investigators work together with international investigators. National judges work together with international judges.

I spoke with hundreds of people who survived Russian captivity, and they told me horrible stories about how they were beaten, how they were raped, how they were smashed into wooden boxes. And I know for sure from my work that these people, they need to restore not only their broken life, broken families, broken vision of the future; they need to restore their belief that the law exists and that justice is possible, even though a delay in time. And that's why my team work on the mechanisms, like a complex strategy, how to provide chance for justice for all, not only for those horrible selected by International Criminal Court or who will be took like a priority for national legal system, but for all because the life of each person matters.

INSKEEP: When you think about the future, it's entirely plausible that this war could still be going on a year from now or two years from now. When you think about that possibility, do you think that the Ukrainian people can take it?

MATVIICHUK: I'm looking in future with optimism. I don't see the future easy. It will be difficult. But every bit of us know for what we are fighting for. We are fighting for freedom and for our democratic choice. And this means that the success of Ukraine will have a huge impact to the whole region and to the democratic future of Russia itself.

INSKEEP: Olexandra Matviichuk, recipient of the Nobel Prize, of the Centre for Civil Liberties in Kyiv. Thank you so much.

MATVIICHUK: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Did I miss anything important that you wanted to say or get anything wrong?

MATVIICHUK: Maybe it's important to highlight what Ukraine needs...

INSKEEP: What does Ukraine need?

MATVIICHUK: ...If it's possible?


MATVIICHUK: Maybe I will tell a story just to describe this. I would like to tell one story about my friend Andriana Susak. When Russia started this war in 2014, she stopped her commercial career and joined Ukrainian Armed Forces. When large-scale invasion started, she was among those Ukrainian defenders who liberated people in Kharkiv region. And she was in Washington just recently to inform congressmen and American people about Russian atrocities and needs of Ukrainian army to stop it. And these days, she was severely injured, and now doctors are fighting for her life. And she was injured because she used civilian car during the war. So...

INSKEEP: She didn't have access to an armored vehicle, you're saying.

MATVIICHUK: Yes, yes, because Ukraine's still waiting for them. And that's why so many people are dying - because they use civilian car to fulfill military tasks. So in order to stop this torture and murder of civilians, Ukrainian army need military assistance.

INSKEEP: I can hear how upsetting that story is to you. I'm sorry to hear of your friend and fellow citizen.


INSKEEP: And thank you for adding that. That gives a lot of perspective. I really appreciate it.

MATVIICHUK: Thank you, Steven. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.