Every Evil Has A Face

A story behind documenting Russian crimes in Ukraine

Bucha, Ukraine. Photo credit: Nick Tsybenko.

By Anna Romandash

“Talking to the victims is the hardest part of the job,” says Yanina Korniyenko, an investigative journalist from Kyiv. She works for, one of the most important investigative media in the country with whom she has uncovered corruption and mafia schemes.

Now, Yanina focuses on documenting war crimes committed by the Russian army. Alongside her team, she is collecting testimonials and other evidence and collaborates with prosecutors who are doing similar work.

“The amount of war crimes that are being committed is overwhelming,” the journalist says, “We hope that sooner than later our work will be used in the courts to help punish the guilty.”

“We have a concrete crime, and a concrete perpetrator”

“Before the war, our job was completely focused on investigating corruption, law enforcement violations, and some criminal cases,” Yanina explains, “But when the invasion happened, we had to change the work completely because we got completely different conditions and realities.”

Her face is serious, solemn even. Her usually positive demeanor is different now, too: she is more restrained, more distant. I met Yanina six years ago when we were both trying out big media collaborations. Back then, Yanina struck me as someone who had the most friendly, the most optimistic attitude I have ever encountered. That is not necessarily how you would imagine an investigative journalist dealing with crime on a daily basis.

But Yanina defies stereotypes. In her mid-twenties, with long blond hair and big blue eyes, she has a natural capacity to make people like her and trust her. She listens well, and she makes people talk: two crucial things for an investigative journalist. Born and raised in Kyiv, she gathered a large pool of contacts across Ukraine, tapping into them for timely investigations.

Before the full-scale invasion, Yanina and her team underwent some in-depth training in OSINT, or open source investigations. The newsroom was expecting some military action from Russia although did not predict how big it would be. The team was trained on how to provide first aid, protect themselves, and understand how different arms were. This helped a bit during the chaos of the first days of the invasion.

“On February 24, we all woke up with explosions in Kyiv,” Yanina proceeds, “We had a morning call with the team and decided to do what we could as fast as possible. We were the first newsroom that started looking for identities of Russian soldiers in Ukraine.”

Their decision was intuitive. The team simply decided to use their OSINT skills and collect data on the troops invading Ukraine. The newsroom split; some remained in Kyiv, and others left for safer areas in Ukraine and abroad. Those in Kyiv managed to travel to northern Ukraine, which was liberated in April; they collected evidence and testimonies of victims. The rest worked remotely, verifying data and connecting with victims online.

Yanina was one of the journalists who left Kyiv. It was a personal decision, driven by her desire to protect her family, especially her elderly grandparents. She returned to Kyiv in May, and does not plan to leave again.

“Through testimonies from Mariupol, I showed that it was a forced deportation”

A filtration camp in Mariupol, Ukraine.

“We work on documenting all possible military crimes taking place in Ukraine and the consequences of Russian attacks, we talk to victims, and we identify the enemy,” Yanina explains, “We believe that every evil has a face, and in this case, it is a face of concrete Russian soldiers who came to kill Ukrainian citizens. That is why if we have an opportunity to identify them, we do it.”

The team focuses on a locality which suffered under Russian occupation and tries to discover what Russian unit was stationed there, sometimes thanks to the lists from the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies. Then, using OSINT and social media, the newsroom looks for each soldier. With their photos in hand, journalists travel back to localities and ask victims to recognize the soldiers.

“This is how we develop a story,” Yanina explains, “We have a concrete crime, and we have a concrete perpetrator of this crime.”

“Another side of the work is to study what is happening in the occupied territories such as forced deportations and kidnappings of civil activists and journalists,” Yanina says, “We talk to people who managed to flee or who are in contact with someone still there. This way, we try to identify conditions, specific locations, and potential legal documents which accompany forced deportation such as migration cards. We try to collect as much evidence that a crime was committed, and that deportations were taking place against people’s will.”

Yanina started this work as an evacuee in Western Ukraine where there were many displaced people from Mariupol. She met and talked to some families, who shared their experience of fleeing the now nearly wiped out city. 90% of the buildings have been damaged or completely destroyed. According the mayor of Mariupol, at least 20,000 residents were killed during the early months of war.

“People barely had a chance to escape as Russians were constantly shooting at the humanitarian corridor.  Only few cars managed to survive out of a large column,” Yanina recalls the story.

Locals told her that some Mariupol residents tried to flee the warzone through Russia. So she started looking for them.

The quest turned out to be difficult. The problem was once people were in Russia, it was nearly impossible to reach them, and they had problems leaving the country. Yet Yanina found enough people who fled Mariupol, then Russia, and managed to escape to different European countries. Through her contacts in the EU, she reached out to Ukrainians who agreed to talk on record.

Then, she connected all the testimonies to get the bigger picture.

“People were repeating the same things such as that Russians interrogated children, separated them from families, and made people sign different documents,” Yanina says, “Russians also imprisoned people who did not pass this filtration. Locals could not leave the buildings in which they were based during filtration, and they could not leave the train by which they were deported to Russia. Based on that, we could confirm that it was not a salvation, but a deportation.”

“We have indirect evidence of war crimes. We have photos of immigration cards and booklets given to people who arrived in Russia,” Yanina continues, “For example, Russians want to bring more people to their Far East and Siberia, so they are giving leaflets promising free land to Ukrainians who go there. There are videos and photos of filtration camps where people are located.”

“The amount of testimonies is overwhelming,” she adds, “You can keep on collecting them for years before you get through even half. It is naive to state that all these testimonies are false. But if we are talking about factual evidence, until the city is occupied, we have no access to surveillance cameras. This is the only piece that’s missing because camera footage can show Russian soldiers dragging people out of basements. This final evidence would fill the chain of events.”

“We hope our work will be used in courts to help punish the guilty”

Once people are deported, they are placed under surveillance. Yanina investigates that, too. She discovered that the Russian Orthodox Church was responsible for many of the forcefully deported Ukrainians in Russia.

“When it comes to the Russian Orthodox Church, it does not hide its involvement in the deportations,” journalist says, “They advertise their services online and brag that they found shelter for many people. Shortly, the story is such: the Russian Ministry of the Interior is sending weekly announcements to the Russian Orthodox Church with a number of adults and children who were deported to Russia. The Ministry also provides information on where Ukrainians should be directed.  We got evidence that the Russian Orthodox Church is the one relocating the deportees across different monasteries. This shows that Church is collaborating with the occupiers.”

“There is also evidence that the Russian Orthodox Church installed surveillance cameras to monitor Ukrainians: we have letters between church leaders that prove it,” Yanina continues, “I wrote to the church myself to verify it, and they confirmed! They responded that it was true, and that the Russian Orthodox Church finds nothing wrong with this activity.”

Yanina hopes that this and many other discoveries will be used later in the international and domestic courts to bring the responsible to justice.

“We are already cooperating with Ukrainian prosecutors investigating war crimes in Kyiv region,” she says, “Journalists are invited to describe how they obtain certain information and share evidence that is used for criminal investigation. Our newsroom also trained prosecutors on how to identify Russian soldiers. We understand that law enforcement agencies are not always our close friends; very often, they are our opponents, but when we have a common enemy, we find ways to cooperate.”

Yanina, however, has many concerns over how international law works, and whether it can punish the guilty.

Western colleagues such as journalists and NGOs could help facilitate that process by shedding more light on the atrocities, but sometimes, their work is shallow and lacks background information.

“It is good that Western media report on Ukraine to the world, but given that the reporters do not have a lot of experience here and lack contextual knowledge, they cannot analyze the situation in a very profound way,” Yanina explains, “They make overview pieces, but when it comes to documenting war crimes, only few, exceptional investigations touch upon these issues.”

She provides an example of a recent story in The New York Times, which quoted Igor Girkin, a Russian veteran who played a crucial part in illegally annexing Crimea and managing the war in Donbas. When the Times quoted him, his title was “Critic of the Ukrainian government”.

“The NYT did not mention that Girkin is accused of shooting down the Malaysian plane MH17 which killed 298 people in summer of 2014,” Yanina exclaims, “Local journalists do better, more profound research.”

“Access to information will not change Russia”

Yanina is skeptical whether verified news will impact the domestic situation in Russia.

“Our platform has a big percentage of views from Russia, which is weird because our content is only in Ukrainian,” she says, “We only translated a few stories in the beginning where we identified Russian soldiers. Most likely, the views are from their relatives who want to know the fate of their children. However, they do not care much about the rest of what is happening. Even when Russian Internet was free,  it did not help them understand that they were living in an authoritarian state with a mad dictator. I do not think it will work now either.”

Yanina herself struggles with the amount of personal stories and pain she collects as a journalist.

“It is difficult to talk to victims because of all the trauma that people went through,” she says, “They experience all of this again when they talk to you, and the memories of deportations and other horrors come back to haunt them. These people expect the interviewer to answer some rhetorical questions, and it is very hard to distance oneself and not to feel for them.”

“Many journalists do become activists, which is an organic process for an invaded country,” she concludes, “Lots of my colleagues have relatives who were deported or killed, and media makers cannot distance themselves from it. It is part of the job.”

Anna Romandash is a Ukrainian freelance journalist and 2022 Research Affiliate at the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College

Welcoming Anna Romandash to CMC

The Mgrublian Center for Human Rights, Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies, and the Department of Religious Studies are pleased to announce that Ukrainian journalist Anna Romandash will be coming to campus this fall and reporting from the war in Ukraine in a special series of programs. Students, faculty, staff and the greater community will have access to the most current developments in Ukraine and along its borders as Ms. Romandash collects evidence and testimonies from victims of the Russian attack, occupation and war crimes. We will have the opportunity to learn directly about events on the ground in Ukraine as well as support the effort to pursue justice and end Putin’s invasion. 

Anna Romandash is an award-winning journalist from Ukraine with extensive experience in Europe, the Middle East, and USA. She has contributed her research to Freedom House, Deutsche Welle, US Embassies, the ICJ and the Council of Europe, and held fellowships at CNN and other international news organizations.

Ms. Romandash works closely with youth on freedom movements, journalism and media training for an EU-wide consortium of universities reaching more than 55,000 students. She has completed two masters degrees, one in global affairs and international peace studies at University of Notre Dame, and a second in media communications at Ukrainian Catholic University and received honors for her bachelor of arts degree at Lviv National University.  Besides fluency in Russian and Ukrainian, Anna speaks English, Spanish, French and Polish.

Ms. Romandash was named Media Freedom Ambassador of Ukraine for her human rights and media coverage and was one of the winners of the European Institute of Mediterranean literary contest for her reporting. She has been recognized for her creative approaches and crowd-funded initiatives, for example developing comic book formats to explain the threats to media freedom, collaborating with artists and media professionals from 20 countries.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Anna began writing about the situation in her home country. She has written stories about survivors of Russian-made massacres in Northern Ukraine, the drama of internally displaced people and refugees forced to flee their homes, and volunteers helping others in times of need. She is a part of an investigative team collecting data on human rights violations and crimes against humanity during the Russo-Ukrainian war. 

Anna is interested in audio storytelling and long-reads; she enjoys working on feature stories that embed and localize the readers in the reality told through the eyes of the protagonists. Anna is the laureate of the Literary Reportages Award “Samovydets” from the Tempora Publishing House as her stories were named among the best reportages in Ukrainian in 2020 and 2021. Ms. Romandash will be a featured speaker at the Athens Democracy Forum sponsored by the New York Times,

We are delighted that Anna will join us this semester in a hybrid program of on-campus presentations and Zoom-ins from Ukraine.  She will be visiting three courses, giving an Ath presentation, Zooming in for lunchtime reports bimonthly on Tuesdays, mentoring students, participating in a Saturday salon meeting sponsored by the Open Academy, and publishing articles on our Center’s websites and newsletters.

Her first visit to campus will be the week of September 12th, with subsequent visits planned for the week of October 24th, and for late November/early December. Please check our website for a line-up of Anna’s events this fall.

Besieged Voices from Ukraine

Sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Holocaust/Genocide/Crimes Against Humanity

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 has brought, and continues to bring, devastation to the lives of millions and has triggered Europe’s greatest refugee crisis since World War II.  Please join us for a series of virtual events to hear the besieged voices of a public historian, a novelist, and a journalist on the ground in Ukraine. The third of the series:

Wednesday 31 August 2022.  12:00-1:00 PM (Eastern Daylight Time)


Russia’s attack on Ukraine has brought death and injury to thousands, the forced flight of millions, and the physical destruction of cities and towns. Please join journalist Maria Avdeeva, public historian Sasha Nazar, and author Serhiy Zhadan who will address the complexities of lives disrupted and the experience of unfolding war from the perspectives of their three professions. An international security expert, Maria Avdeeva has reported tirelessly from cities under siege since the Russian invasion.   Public historian and grassroots activist Sasha Nazar has led successful initiatives to protect Jewish heritage sites.  And Serhiy Zhadan, poet, novelist, and essayist, has won more than a dozen literary awards including, most recently, the 2022 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade “for documenting the struggles of his compatriots caught up in a brutal war.”

Co-Chairs: Elissa Bemporad and Natalya Lazar.   31 AUGUST | BESIEGED VOICES  

Elizabeth Wydra ’98 and Zack Smith on Supreme Court’s Decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade

Published by Washington Journal, on C-SPAN (June 25, 2022)

Elizabeth Wydra (CMC ’98), Mgrublian Center Advisory Board Member and President of the Constitutional Accountability Center discusses the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade with Heritage Foundation’s Zack Smith in a conversation moderated by C-SPAN’s Mimi Geerges.

Following her graduation from CMC in 1998, Wydra received her JD from Yale Law School where she also served as the editor of the Yale Journal of International Law and the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism. Named a legal star (top 40 under 40) by the National Law Journal, Ms. Wydra has excelled as a scholar and activist. She started as a law clerk for federal Judge James R. Browning in San Francisco and has since been admitted to practice in the Supreme Court and several US Courts of Appeals across the US. She is a member of the National Constitution Center’s Coalition of Freedom Advisory Board, and was elected member of the DC Bar Section on Criminal Law and Individual Rights. She was Chief Counsel of the Constitutional Accountability Center for eight years before being named President in 2016. The Center has become a leading voice and influential force in pushing for more progressive interpretations of the constitution, arguing in defense of the Affordable Care Act and drawing attention to the history of the 13th Amendment. She is also a prominent spokesperson, appearing frequently on CNN and other media outlets and also quoted in the NY Times, USA Today, Politico, Reuters, Slate, Washington Post, etc. 

Follow this link to view her recent conversation with Zack Smith (Heritage Foundation) regarding the Supreme Court’s June 24th decision to overturn Roe v. Wade:

Russia’s Genocide Handbook

The evidence of atrocity and of intent mounts

By Tim Snyder (published on April 8)

Russia has just issued a genocide handbook for its war on Ukraine.  The Russian official press agency “RIA Novosti” published last Sunday an explicit program for the complete elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such.  It is still available for viewing, and has now been translated several times into English.

As I have been saying since the war began, “denazification” in official Russian usage just means the destruction of the Ukrainian state and nation.  A “Nazi,” as the genocide manual explains, is simply a human being who self-identifies as Ukrainian.  According to the handbook, the establishment of a Ukrainian state thirty years ago was the “nazification of Ukraine.”  Indeed “any attempt to build such a state” has to be a “Nazi” act.  Ukrainians are “Nazis” because they fail to accept “the necessity that the people support Russia.”  Ukrainians should suffer for believing that they exist as a separate people; only this can lead to the “redemption of guilt.”

For anyone still out there who believes that Putin’s Russia opposes the extreme right in Ukraine or anywhere else, the genocide program is a chance to reconsider.  Putin’s Russian regime talks of “Nazis” not because it opposes the extreme right, which it most certainly does not, but as a rhetorical device to justify unprovoked war and genocidal policies. Putin’s regime is the extreme right.  It is the world center of fascism. It supports fascists and extreme-right authoritarians around the world.  In traducing the meaning of words like “Nazi,” Putin and his propagandists are creating more rhetorical and political space for fascists in Russia and elsewhere.  

The genocide handbook explains that the Russian policy of “denazification” is not directed against Nazis in the sense that the word is normally used.  The handbook grants, with no hesitation, that there is no evidence that Nazism, as generally understood, is important in Ukraine.  It operates within the special Russian definition of “Nazi”: a Nazi is a Ukrainian who refuses to admit being a Russian.  The “Nazism” in question is “amorphous and ambivalent”; one must, for example, be able to see beneath the world of appearance and decode the affinity for Ukrainian culture or for the European Union as “Nazism.”

The actual history of actual Nazis and their actual crimes in the 1930s and 1940s is thus totally irrelevant and completely cast aside.  This is perfectly consistent with Russian warfighting in Ukraine.  No tears are shed in the Kremlin over Russian killing of Holocaust survivors or Russian destruction of Holocaust memorials, because Jews and the Holocaust have nothing to do with the Russian definition of “Nazi.”  This explains why Volodymyr Zelens’kyi, although a democratically-elected president, and a Jew with family members who fought in the Red Army and died in the Holocaust, can be called a Nazi.  Zelens’kyi is a Ukrainian, and that is all that “Nazi” means. 

On this absurd definition, where Nazis have to be Ukrainians and Ukrainians have to be Nazis, Russia cannot be fascist, no matter what Russians do.  This is very convenient.  If “Nazi” has been assigned the meaning “Ukrainian who refuses to be Russian” then it follows that no Russian can be a Nazi.  Since for the Kremlin being a Nazi has nothing to do with fascist ideology, swastika-like symbols, big lies, rallies, rhetoric of cleansings, aggressive wars, abductions of elites, mass deportations, and the mass killing of civilians, Russians can do all of these things without ever having to ask if they themselves on the wrong side of the historical ledger.  And so we find Russians implementing fascist policies in the name of “denazification.” 

The Russian handbook is one of the most openly genocidal documents I have ever seen.  It calls for the liquidation of the Ukrainian state, and for abolition of any organization that has any association with Ukraine.  It postulates that the “majority of the population” of Ukraine are “Nazis,” which is to say Ukrainians. (This is clearly a reaction to Ukrainian resistance; at war’s beginning the assumption was that there were only a few Ukrainians and that they would be easily eliminated.  This was clear in another text published in RIA Novosti, the victory declaration of 26 February.)  Such people, “the majority of the population,” so more than twenty million people, are to be killed or sent to work in “labor camps” to expurgate their guilt for not loving Russia.  Survivors are to be subject to “re-education.”  Children will be raised to be Russian.  The name “Ukraine” will disappear. 

A girl looks back as she is being evacuated from Irpin. Many civilians who remained in that Kyiv suburb were murdered by Russian servicemen. According to local officials, their bodies were then crushed with tanks.

Had this genocide handbook appeared at some other time and in a more obscure outlet, it might have escaped notice.  But it was published right in the middle of the Russian media landscape during a Russian war of destruction explicitly legitimated by the Russian head of state’s claim that a neighboring nation did not exist.  It was published on a day when the world was learning of a mass murder of Ukrainians committed by Russians. 

Russia’s genocide handbook was published on April 3, two days after the first revelation that Russian servicemen in Ukraine had murdered hundreds of people in Bucha, and just as the story was reaching major newspapers.  The Bucha massacre was one of several cases of mass killing that emerged as Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv region.  This means that the genocide program was knowingly published even as the physical evidence of genocide was emerging.  The writer and the editors chose this particular moment to make public a program for the elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such. 

As a historian of mass killing, I am hard pressed to think of many examples where states explicitly advertise the genocidal character of their own actions right at at the moment those actions become public knowledge.  From a legal perspective, the existence of such a text (in the larger context of similar statements and Vladimir Putin’s repeated denial that Ukraine exists) makes the charge of genocide far easier to make.  Legally, genocide means both actions that destroy a group in whole or in part, combined with some intention to do so.  Russia has done the deed and confessed to the intention.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Statement on Damage to Babyn Yar

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum strongly condemns the continued Russian attacks on the Ukrainian people and loss of innocent lives, the exploitation of the Holocaust as a pretext for these attacks, the blatant disregard for historical truth, and the attack today at one of the most important memorial sites of the Holocaust. At Babyn Yar, outside of Kyiv, in just two days in September 1941, over 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children were shot by Nazi Germany’s forces with assistance from their local collaborators. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is so bravely leading the Ukrainian people at this time, visited the Museum last fall to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre and emphasize his country’s commitment to preserving Holocaust sites, remembering the victims, and securing historical truth. We stand with him and the Ukrainian people during these critical times. 

Ambassador (ret) Stuart E. Eizenstat, Chairman, US Holocaust Memorial Council

Allan M. Holt, Vice Chairman, US Holocaust Memorial Council

Sara J. Bloomfield, Director, US Holocaust Memorial Museum

(The above statement was posted on the USHMM website on March 1, 2022)

2022 Elbaz Family Post-Graduate Fellowship

The Mgrublian Center is now accepting applications for the Elbaz Family Post-Graduate Fellowship in Human Rights!

Program details:

This fellowship program is open to all CMC seniors graduating in May 2022 who are interested in pursuing a career in human rights, Holocaust, and genocide studies or prevention.  The fellowship will be awarded for one year following graduation during which the recipient will receive funding for a position within a major human rights organization (to be identified by the fellow or through partnerships maintained by the Mgrublian Center). Ideally the position should focus on one or more of these areas: leadership training; project management skills; field work and research; professional networking; and advocacy work to advance human rights.  The fellowship could lead to full time work or preparation for graduate school.  The Mgrublian Center will award up to $50,000 to cover living expenses for the one-year duration of the fellowship.  Upon conclusion of the fellowship, the fellow will return to CMC to present a public lecture. 

To apply, submit the following via email:

  • Cover letter identifying the proposed employer/human rights organization, and a description of work and goals for the year
  • Correspondence with the proposed host organization as a point of contact and as evidence of interest in supporting your application
  • Resumé
  • Transcript
  • Two letters of recommendation (emailed directly to the Center)

Application deadline:  Thursday, March 31st, 2022

Questions?  Contact Kirsti Zitar or Professor Wendy Lower to learn more about this opportunity or to discuss your application.

Research Fellowships – Call for Applications!

The Mgrublian Center for Human Rights is currently accepting applications for the 8th annual Human Rights Student Research Fellowship Program.

Research fellows work closely with a faculty advisor on a year-long (2021-22 academic year) project related to the Holocaust, human rights, or genocide studies.   Fellows will be provided with office space at the Center and access to the Center’s library and other resources.   Each fellowship recipient will receive a $500 stipend to be used toward research materials and/or field research expenses.  Seniors working on relevant honors theses are encouraged to apply.  Past fellowship projects can be found on our website.

Application process: Submit your research proposal, resume, and transcript via our website.

Application deadline: Friday, September 24th

Questions?  Contact Kirsti Zitar,

Now Hiring!

The Mgrublian Center is now hiring Student Assistants and Human Rights Legal Assistants for the 2021-22 academic year.  We are looking for creative students with strong research, writing and communication skills, and a commitment to the values of the Center.

Student Assistant

  • Act as a liaison with the Center’s volunteer human rights task force groups
  • Promote Center events on campus through creation of flyers and via social media
  • Assist faculty with human rights research
  • Update the Center’s library and maintain inventory
  • Edit and create the Center’s quarterly Newsletter

Other responsibilities and duties may arise during the course of the school year. The approximate time commitment is 5-10 hours per week. Positions are open to CMC freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior applicants and to both work-study and non-work study students.   

Apply in handshake: (job ID#5180215)


Human Rights Legal Assistant

  • Conduct background research for a local (LA area) human rights lawyer
  • Participate in bi-monthly progress meetings with Center staff and sponsoring attorney(s)
  • Create spreadsheets of data and written reports as deemed relevant by the project
  • Work as a team member with fellow students, paralegals, Center staff and the attorney(s)

Other responsibilities and duties may arise during the course of the school year. The approximate time commitment is 5-10 hours per week. Positions are open to CMC sophomore, junior, and senior applicants and to both work-study and non-work study students.  

Apply in handshake: (job ID#5311850)

Application deadline for BOTH jobs is Friday, September 24th