Against the backdrop of the full-scale war in Ukraine, Every Casualty Counts commissioned students at the University of Groningen to conduct a short research study into how the Ukrainian authorities are upholding their legal obligations to account for every death or disappearance that has occurred as a result of the conflict.
In this series of blogs, student researcher Anastasiia Liulina shares her findings on the steps the Ukrainian authorities are taking to ensure casualties are recorded, identified and remembered appropriately during an ongoing war. She also sets out what other countries can learn from Ukraine’s approach.
This final blog (of three) outlines the various initiatives commemorating those who have died as a result of war, political repression or the struggle for independence in Ukraine. It also highlights what other countries can learn from Ukraine’s example.
There are well established initiatives in Ukraine for commemorating those who have died as a result of war, political repression or the struggle for independence – at both State and public level.
The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory has oversight for – among other things – searching for, identifying, exhuming, land reburying the deceased. Every year it publishes an annual report including information on projects that commemorate people who ‘died for Ukraine’. In its 2022 report, however, it didn’t include information about Ukrainian soldiers who died due to Russian aggression, in line with State practice that this information is classified during an ongoing war.
Currently, by order of the President of Ukraine, all media, local government authorities, educational institutions and diplomatic missions observe a minute of silence every day at 9am in honour of all those people – both civilian and military – who have lost their lives due to Russian aggression.
A well-established private initiative is the ‘Book of Memory of Those who Died for Ukraine’ which contains detailed information on people who have died protecting Ukraine between 2014-2021. While this is a private initiative, it is supported by the Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) department of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), which provided the website with relevant information about the deceased. The information includes each person’s full name, photo, date and place of birth, their family status, circumstances, date and place of death, place of burial and, if relevant, rank, position, unit and name of the military operation during which the person died.
The book currently includes the names of 4,490 Ukrainian combatants starting from 2014 up until 1 December 2021. The site states that it has ‘temporarily suspended updating and adding to the memory pages’ as a result of the current invasion of Ukraine by Russia. However, it goes on to assure that work will resume once possible, and that in the meantime information is still being collected and logged with a Google form embedded on the site for people to submit details.
A newer initiative is the ‘Ukraine Memorial Platform’ which was established in March 2022 with the specific purpose of collecting, verifying, systematizing and publishing data about people who have been killed in Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine. The platform humanises the statistics, telling the individual stories of both Ukrainian civilians and military who have been killed, via its website and social media channels. The platform became a member of Every Casualty Counts’ Casualty Recorders Network in February of this year (2023).
What other States can learn from Ukraine’s example
- Ukraine has demonstrated that even during an intensified conflict, such as the current war, casualty recording is possible. And that under the toughest of the conditions, there are a number of vital and necessary outcomes that result from this work.
- One of the main lessons other states can learn from the Ukrainian example is that in a situation of armed conflict, it is very important to provide mechanisms that guarantee the basic human rights of the relatives of the dead or missing, such as the right to inherit, remarry and receive financial compensation.
- Ukraine also shows that even in situations where military necessity does not allow publishing the total amount of casualties, it is still possible – and highly recommended – to commemorate the deceased individually. Ukraine shares the details of death to the relatives of those killed in battle, and – just as importantly – to the families of the enemy combatants. By doing so, the state upholds its obligation to provide the right to truth, which is often disregarded by the enemy state towards their own citizens for propaganda purposes.
- Lastly, where the state does not have enough resources to perform its obligations, or is unable to perform its obligations during an ongoing conflict due to matters of national security, it is important to allow civil society to step in and undertake this work.
This was the final blog in a series of three on casualty recording during a full-scale war. You can read the previous blogs here: