The hi-tech 3D scanners holding Putin account for vicious war crimes

Ukraine: President Zelensky visits Bucha in April

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As the war in Ukraine shows no signs of letting up, Vladimir Putin’s troops are to be held to account for their vicious war crimes. It is the next stage of the war. 

The International Criminal Court, Ukrainian judges and its Western backers are now preparing their prosecution statements as they await the evidence. Using state-of-the-art, 3D scanners, forensics staff across Ukraine will work to decipher and delineate thousands of crimes committed by Putin’s soldiers.

UK Attorney General Victoria Prentis, who is overseeing the training of 90 Ukrainian judges looking to prosecute Russia for its crimes, said the ongoing conflict makes these efforts more important than ever. Live documentation and sentencing are vital to show “Russian soldiers and officers that they must act in accordance with international law”, she explained. 

In a small office block in the suburbs of Luxembourg City, 900 miles from the western border of Ukraine, a thriving start-up is helping to bring these perpetrators to justice.

Artec 3D has just sent 30 of its most sophisticated handheld devices to the frontlines, which cost more than £30,000 each. Ukraine has not paid anything – an Artec discount and funds from the Luxembourg Ministry of Defence have covered all the costs. 

Artyom Yukhin, CEO of Artec, who spoke to Express.co.uk a week after the first round of scanners were sent, explained why they had decided to help. 

“We have quite a few Ukrainians in our team. We have friends, we have family, we have Russians, we have Belarussians, many of whom have relatives in Ukraine, too,” he said. “We have a lot of strings attached.” 

The firm’s head of production, a Portuguese-Ukrainian employee, had spent more than two weeks looking for information on his brother’s whereabouts in the southern port city of Kherson. 

Ukrainian forces had liberated Kherson after eight months of brutal occupation. His brother, however, was missing. 

Artec 3D supported Ukraine since the start of the war with cash and profits from the 3D scanner sales. They were then contacted by a former ambassador in Luxembourg, now in Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces “had no money”, according to Mr Yukhin, but desperately needed equipment to help document Russian war crimes.  The first scanners were sent in November.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, the deputy prime minister of Luxembourg, Minister Francois Bausch, who helped broker the deal with Ukraine, said Russian war crimes could “not be accepted” simply as a corollary of conflict. 

“What Russia has done is an unprecedented moment of aggression post the Second World War,” he said. “It cannot be accepted.” 

Around 16 percent of the Luxembourg defence budget for this year has gone to supporting Ukraine, worth an estimated £65 million (€75 million). 

The cost of the scanners, as well as the price of sending them to Ukraine, cost the Government £1.3million (€1.5million), but Minister Bausch pledged to “continue into next year”. 

He said they are willing to send more scanners if they are needed. The same promise extends to weapons, medical supplies and other equipment. 

He said the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office was “very happy” when he told them the scanners could be sent immediately, so much so that they sent a representative from Kyiv to take a look at the scanners.

Weeks later, the packages were crossing the Ukrainian border. 

For thousands of Ukrainian civilians, this next stage of the war is immaterial. 

The actions of some Russian soldiers have had devastating repercussions well beyond the fatal, shattering communities across Ukraine. 

So far, 14 Russian soldiers have been convicted of war crimes committed since the invasion. The first was 21-year-old Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, who shot a 62-year-old civilian man in the northeastern settlement of Chupakhivka to the west of Kharkiv, four days after the first Russian soldiers stepped into Ukraine. 

The man died a few metres from his home. The young Russian soldier faces life in prison. 

There are 43,000 more reported war crimes and counting, registered but untried.

Natalia Nestor, deputy director of Kyiv Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise, told Express.co.uk of some of her organisation’s findings in the city of Bucha north of Kyiv. 

After Ukraine’s soldiers forced the Russian troops to retreat in March, the first signs of Russia’s brutality emerged. Those freed from Russian rule cried in the arms of their rescuers. Moments later, they pointed to dumps into which their neighbours, young and old, had been tossed. 

Ms Nestor spoke of a seven-year-old girl discovered in those mass graves, her body exhumed too late to be properly identified. 

She’d been raped by seven different men, DNA tests discovered, one for each year she had been alive. 

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Iryna Dmytriyeva and her four-year-old Ukrainian daughter Liza woke up on July 14 this year excited to see the young girl’s speech therapist. 

Liza, described by her mother in an Instagram post as “my little angel”, had Down’s Syndrome. 

Though the Russian invasion had taken its toll on her, Liza’s daily visits to the LogoClub centre for special needs, where she saw her speech therapist, in the centre of Vinnytsia in southwest Ukraine, had provided her with a regular but brief break from the monotony of missile strikes.

She “loved” visiting the club.  

On the morning of July 14, she was pictured on her mother’s Instagram smiling as she held onto her pink pushchair, speaking excitedly about going to the LogoClub. 

A few hours later, Russian Naval forces fired five Kalibr cruise missiles from positions in the Black Sea. 

The missiles struck the Jubilee department store, the House of Officers, a Soviet-era concert hall, residential buildings and a medical centre. 

They also struck Victory Square, one block away from the LogoClub. 

By the early afternoon of July 14, a pink pushchair was pictured lying on its side, ripped to pieces in front of the charred remains of the Jubilee department store. 

Its owner was nowhere in sight. 

Staff at the LogoClub had taken all the children down to their shelter when they heard the air siren indicating the presence of Russian missiles.

But Liza and her mother were still out on the street. 

The four-year-old was one of three young children killed when Russian missiles hit the centre of Vinnytsia, 560 miles from the Black Sea and several hundred miles from the front lines of combat. 

Maksim Zharii, who was seven, also died alongside his mother Viktoriia. An eight-year-old boy, waiting for his uncle in a car parked nearby, died after being trapped by the fierce fires resulting from the missile strikes. 

A day later, Russia’s defence ministry issued a statement, ignoring the deaths of children and other Ukrainian civilians entirely. 

They claimed they had “destroyed” a meeting of the Ukrainian military and foreign officials who were discussing weapons deliveries. Those claims remain unsubstantiated. 

Local officials later pointed out that Kalibr missiles are high-precision, which indicates that the Russians purposefully targeted civilians.

The strike has since been labelled as a war crime by several Western nations.

Artec Leo scanners have numerous qualities that make them ideally suited for the documentation of crime scenes. 

“It is unique in its league because it has software embedded within the scanner,” Mr Yukhin said. “You do not need a computer and it is battery-powered. 

“It also has a touchscreen so you can see what you scan immediately. You can stop scanning and resume [at free will]. It sounds simple but it changes everything. 

“It has Wi-Fi so you can upload all the data that you scan, as well. This is a game-changer.” 

He added: “The complexity is the same as using your smartphone to shoot a video. This is possible only because it has embedded computation.”

The ability for the Artec Leo to operate independently, to upload directly to the cloud, using Wi-Fi, and to allow for immediate review on its touch screen also saves a significant amount of money by circumventing the costly additional support required by previous versions of 3D scanners. 

For a nation that is forced to spend considerable sums on defending its country from invaders, efficiency is essential. 

The Arctec Leo allows Ukrainian forensics teams to swiftly and cheaply preserve an entire crime scene in 3D format, to be presented later in a courtroom, with minimal effort. 

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the data collected by these scanners allow for what is called “reverse simulation”, where the details of the crime scene can be used to discern how the devastation was caused. 

This method could be used to see how a building was damaged because “they can prove where the missile came from and how it all happened”. 

That practice can also be extended to damaged corpses in a process called “craniofacial reconstruction”. 

Though Mr Yukhin admitted that this is drawing the line “between art and science”, the data collected by Artec Leo allows for a broken skull, for example, to be reconstructed on a computer, which in turn makes the identification of missing people easier.

DNA identification is both expensive and difficult, especially when bodies have not been properly preserved, such as in Bucha and Irpin. 

Using “special landmarks” on a corpse, “craniofacial reconstruction” allows officials to compare the photos of a missing person with the reconstructed remains and sidestep the need for DNA identification. 

It is graphic, “time-consuming” work, but it is a “reliable method to prove that this skull belongs to that person”. 

For thousands of Ukrainians currently unaware of where their relatives are, or what might have happened to them, this could, at the very least, answer their questions. It is not justice, but it is, in some manner, a form of closure. 

Photos shared with Express.co.uk show the Institute of Forensic Expertise has already started analysing the detritus of Russia’s war crimes. 

Ms Nestor, the deputy director, said that “a lot of facts have already been recorded” and that work to document these crimes is only accelerating. 

“So that no violation of human rights goes unpunished, painstaking work is being done today to record these facts,” she said. 

“War crimes are a deliberate, gross violation of the laws and customs of war, for which the perpetrators (combatants and persons who issue orders to them) bear criminal responsibility, determined by the decision of international military tribunals.

“All crimes committed on the territory of Ukraine are documented by law enforcement agencies of Ukraine, citizens and experts. A lot of facts have already been recorded about the crimes of the Russian Federation.

“Fixation of war crimes is a very important component of assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as further proof of the fact of the crime in court.”

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Russia accepting, or even responding, to the war crime charges soon to be made against them on a mass scale is unlikely. 

As Minister Bausch said, “seeing how Russia operates with lies and propaganda, it is clear that they will not accept these charges. They will say the charges are not real.”

But he said the scanners will be vital in the face of this denial because Ukraine “will have the pictures and the analysis” to prove these events did, in fact, take place, documented beyond a reasonable doubt with the help of Artec Leo. 

“They will refuse it and they will struggle against it,” Minister Bausch said. “But it is important that the international community does it.”

Asked if the documentation was about showing the world the extent of Russian atrocities as much as it was about bringing about charges, Mr Bausch added: “Absolutely.” 

Vladimir Putin and the perpetrators of vicious war atrocities within his military ranks must not go unpunished. Irrespective of their inevitable denial, it is imperative the extent and details of their crimes are eventually known to the world. Success in this field will afford some honour to the thousands of Ukrainians who died believing justice had evaded them. 

The next stage of this war is fully underway.

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