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Ukrainian woman has footage she hopes will be used in war crime trials

Nataliya Zubar, who lives in Kharkiv, is collecting visual evidence of Russia's attacks in Ukraine and storing it in the cloud for protection.
Russia Ukraine War Day In Photos
Posted at 2:13 PM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 14:13:33-04

Nataliya Zubar is the voice from behind a camera recording a video of a destroyed university building in Kharkiv, Ukraine. 

She called out details: Broken glass that reached the square across the street, the building's interior becoming its exterior. 

"You can imagine how big the shockwave was," Zubar says. "The people are dying. The apartment buildings are being destroyed."

Some of her footage is evidence collected and stored in the cloud for protection. She says she hopes it can eventually be used in war crimes trials. 

"This is the place where [a] bomb was thrown from the plane. And now, I will show you the results of this bombing," Zubar continued. "We are trying to do, myself personally, are trying to document the war crimes."

Zubar lives in Kharkiv, which is one of the cities where volunteers for The Maidan Center — a Ukrainian human rights group — have chosen to stay, taking enormous risks to bear witness to what's happening all around them.

Russian shells crack open residential high rises and shopping centers are leveled to the ground. Ukrainian officials claim civilians are being targeted.

"Irreversible damages to 400 buildings, already big buildings. And we are speaking about the buildings where 5,100 peoples live," Zubar said.  

Intentionally killing civilians is a war crime. Proving intentionality is no simple matter, though. The documentation is best recorded while the alleged crime scenes are fresh, while the rockets and mortars are still dropping. 

NEWSY'S JASON BELLINI: That sounds like dangerous work you're doing.  

NATALIYA ZUBAR: Yep.  

BELLINI: Have you had any close encounters with Russian weapons? 

Nataliya says her group consulted with a Polish institute that documented crimes against humanity in the second World War. 

ZUBAR: If we document it gradually, day by day, Russia will not be able to get out with it. They couldn't deny the crimes. 

BELLINI: Well you know as well as I do, they will deny.  

ZUBAR: They already deny. You're absolutely right. 

BELLINI: And they might even say, well, there were Ukrainian soldiers in there. Can you prove that there were not Ukrainian soldiers in there?   

ZUBAR: Well, they can actually say anything. But if we develop a methodology for gradually documenting the events as they appear today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, we may be able to actually have a very solid evidence base.  

Before the Russian invasion, Zubar worked in information technology. What she's doing now involves both information that she seeks on the ground and technology to make sure, that no matter what happens to her, even the record is invaluable. 

ZUBAR: Even if we are dead, all the digital evidence will be supported. 

BELLINI: The Russian soldier who fires those mortars, who fired those rockets — do you think no matter how much evidence you collect, he'll ever pay a price for that or the person who commanded that soldier?  

ZUBAR: Yeah, I believe they do. Our military have reported that they caught a pilot of a bomber, who was bombing in a city near Kharkiv.  

BELLINI: Why would they kill civilians purposefully?  

ZUBAR: I have no idea. I have no idea. I cannot get into someone's head.  

BELLINI: Do you think they're evil?   

ZUBAR: I don't know. Well, I am not an expert in the religion, and so, you know, evil is not a criminal category. 

BELLINI: There are people who were watching this who might be watching this and say, that's great what you're doing, but you should get out of there.   

ZUBAR: I was offered an opportunity to get out many times. I have lots of friends in different countries. I could go safely to many countries. But it's my mission. I was prepared for it.  

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