Ukraine: Two years since Russian full-scale invasion, justice and accountability must prevail

 24 February will mark two years since the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. According to the UN, 10,378 civilians have been killed and 19,632 injured as of January 2024, although the actual figures are likely to be higher. Many are still reported missing. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian military personnel, including former civilians who took up arms to defend Ukraine, have been killed or injured by Russian forces. Over 6.3 million refugees from Ukraine were recorded globally at the end of 2023. PEN International has repeatedly called on the Russian Federation to end their devastating war against Ukraine.

Commenting on the two-year anniversary, Burhan Sonmez, PEN International President, said:

‘24 February marks a grim milestone in the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, which continues unabated. Two years that have brought suffering to millions of people, with Russian forces committing war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law. Summary executions, torture, rape, the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, and deportations and forcible transfers of civilians – including thousands of children – to the Russian Federation, must not go unpunished.

Today, we once again reiterate our full support for our friends at PEN Ukraine and everyone affected by the war, who are showing extraordinary strength and resolve in the face of unimaginable adversity.

We vehemently condemn the unacceptable loss of life, with at least 15 Ukrainian and foreign journalists killed in Ukraine since the full-scale invasion while carrying out their professional duties. We continue to mourn the killing of writer, PEN Ukraine member and war crimes investigator Victoria Amelina, who died last year from injuries sustained in a horrific Russian missile strike in Kramatorsk, Eastern Ukraine. At least 96 Ukrainian cultural figures have been killed in the past two years, including writer Volodymyr Vakulenko and orchestra conductor Yuriy Kerpatenko. All those responsible must be brought to justice.

We stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian writers and journalists who are languishing behind bars on trumped-up grounds in Russian-occupied Crimea and in the Russian Federation, in flagrant violation of international law, including citizen journalists and human rights defenders Iryna Danylovych and Server Mustafayev. We urge their immediate and unconditional release.

We utterly condemn the Russian Federation’s persistent attempts to erase Ukrainian culture and identity. Museums, libraries, and archives across Ukraine continue to be deliberately targeted and destroyed, while ‘Russian standards’ and language are being imposed in occupied parts of Ukraine. Attacks against Ukrainian culture, history, and language must end at once.

On this fateful day, we once again urge the international community to support all efforts to ensure accountability for the people of Ukraine and hold all perpetrators of war crimes and human rights violations to account. Survivors must be provided with full reparation.

With wars raging across the globe, we, PEN members, will continue to do everything in our power to dispel all hatreds. Peace, justice, and accountability must prevail.’

Unbreakable Ukrainian resolve

Following the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, PEN Ukraine has been at the forefront of documenting war crimes – including crimes against cultural heritage, the media, and cultural figures – and supporting cultural life and the literary community in Ukraine.

Notably, in June 2022, PEN Ukraine launched Unbreakable Ukrainian Libraries, a programme for Ukrainian libraries affected by the war. A partnership with Book Aid International – together with PEN Ukraine, PEN International, and English PEN, saw 25,000 brand-new books dispatched from London to Kyiv in November 2023. The books will support libraries throughout Ukraine, including in frontline and liberated territories.

Volodymyr Yermolenko, PEN Ukraine President, said:

‘The Russian aggression on Ukraine is not going to stop. It aims not only to erase Ukrainian national identity and Ukrainian statehood, but also to undermine the values of freedom, democracy, and human dignity around the world. If we let Russia win this war, the 21st century will be a century of new gulags and mass killings – and it is now. Our goal is to defend human rights, including primarily the right to life’.

For more information about PEN Ukraine’s work, please click here.

For more information about PEN International’s work on Ukraine, please click here.

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