Tetiana Pechonchyk is head of the Human Rights Centre ZMINA (Ukraine), engaged in informational, educational, monitoring, analytical and advocacy activities in the field of human rights. After the beginning of the large-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine ZMINA together with other 29 NGOs launched a Ukraine 5AM Coalition ( dealing with the documentation of war crimes and aiming at protecting victims of armed Russian aggression in Ukraine and bringing to justice top leadership of the Russian Federation and direct perpetrators of war crimes.

Since Russia invaded my homeland of Ukraine seven months ago, its forces have unleashed untold violence and horror on our people. Every day more and more evidence of war crimes is coming to light. These are not the actions of a few ill-disciplined soldiers, but rather a systematic policy of murder, violence and human rights abuses carried out on the orders of the dictator Vladimir Putin.

Over 35,000 potential international crimes by Russian armed forces have so far been registered by the Office of the Prosecutor General in Ukraine. These crimes cover the full litany of horrors that can be inflicted during war – direct attacks and damage to civilian objects; deaths or injuries caused by shelling; using weapons that cause “superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering”(including cluster and phosphorus bombs); damage to buildings dedicated to religion, or education, or art, or hospitals; the enforced disappearances of persons; pillage of occupied towns; murders and wilful killings of civilians – just a few out of 30 different types of crimes that are being carried out every day.

If these crimes sound familiar, then perhaps that’s because they are a brutal reminder of the kind of horrors being inflicted closer to home, on the people of north-eastern Nigeria. Instead of Russian troops, here it is Islamist fanatics that murder, maim, rape and torture the civilian population, all in the name of religion. These criminals follow different leaders and use different language, but their actions and objectives are eerily similar. They both use violence to terrify and subdue anyone that dares stand against them.

And the results are the same – ordinary people forced to flee their homes, seeking refuge wherever they can. Russia’s violence has caused over seven million people to become internally displaced and over four million refugees flee Ukraine entirely. This wave of humanity on the move tells a story of lives uprooted, homes destroyed, loved ones lost and futures smashed.


Nigeria has over two and a half million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Groups like Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province have forced them from their homes and while the war still rages, there is little chance of them going back. Instead, they are forced to subsist in camps, facing an uncertain future.

When you look closer at the criminals that visit such pain upon innocent civilians, the fanatics of Boko Haram and their ilk resemble more and more the Russian soldiers and their Kremlin masters that are ripping Ukraine apart. Both justify their evil deeds in the name of a higher calling. The religious extremists cite the word of the Koran, whilst Putin and his henchmen look to an ideology of Russian nationalism.

Islamists and Russian nationalists alike brainwash people into following their twisted ideologies by exploiting differences between social groups. They drive wedges between people of other creeds or ethnicity. Anyone different to them is “evil”, or “subhuman”. Boko Haram, for example, teaches its followers that Christians are not to be tolerated and that violence against them is not only justified but a sacred duty. The Russian state preaches a similar message about Ukrainians. State-owned Russian news agency RIA published an article in April that called for a process of “de-Ukrainisation”, to rid the world of “Ukrainism”, a Russian propaganda term that refers to “an artificial anti-Russian construction that does not have its own civilizational content, a subordinate element of an alien and alien civilization.” The Kremlin is literally saying that Ukrainians do not have a right to exist. And we have seen that once a group is whipped into a frenzied hatred of “the other” it is a short journey from angry rhetoric to violence and war crimes.

I am travelling from Ukraine to Nigeria in two weeks’ time to meet with Nigerian political and civil society leaders to understand better your country’s own struggle against violence and fanaticism and to talk about my own people’s fight against just the same kind of enemy. Ukraine and Nigeria face many of the same challenges and there is much that we can do to meet them together. I will be in Nigeria to extend the hand of friendship and build partnerships so that we may better confront the evil that would rip our countries apart. Together we can overcome our enemies and build a brighter future.

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