New Canadian sanctions against Russia target accused ‘Butchers of Bucha’

The latest round of Canadian sanctions against Russia take aim at members of the military units that are accused of massacring civilians outside of Kyiv last spring.

In all, 43 individuals and 17 entities were added to the existing roster on Tuesday.

Several of the military officers on the Liberal government’s updated list belong to the Russian Army’s 64th Motorized Rifle Brigade and were sanctioned months ago by other allies, including members of the European Union.

One of them, Col. Andrei Boevich Kurbanov, was identified in early April and placed on a list of the so-called “Butchers of Bucha” by activists and Ukrainian war crimes investigators.

He and other lower level commanders were sanctioned by the EU in June.

Some of Kurbanov’s superiors, including Col. Azatbek Asanbekovich Omurbekov, the commander of the brigade and Lt.-Gen. Andrey Ivanovich Sychevoy, the commander of the 8th Guards Combined Arms Army, were placed on Canada’s black list in the spring.

Ukrainian Canadian Congress says sanctions are overdue

Even still, the chief executive officer of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, Ihor Michalchyshyn, said the federal government has been slow imposing penalties on the lower level commanders and is still reticent to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.

Russia has denied killing civilians in Bucha and claims that evidence of civilian killings was staged to incriminate Moscow.

Forensic technicians exhume the bodies of civilians who Ukrainian officials say were killed during Russia’s invasion and then buried in a mass grave in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine April 8, 2022. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

The 64th Motor Rifle Brigade — which was lauded by Russian President Vladimir Putin with the honorary military title of ‘Guards’ for its deployment to Ukraine — arrived in Bucha, a leafy affluent suburb of Kyiv, in mid-March. The brigade is accused of murdering as many as a dozen people during a three week period in the area.

Last spring, Yulia, a clerk at a tiny shop called Memory Kings, located behind the morgue in Bucha, recounted the harrowing Russian occupation in an interview with CBC News.

She said the first wave of Russian troops were respectful, but those who followed — a reference to the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade — were cruel. She said that although she never witnessed an atrocity directly, both she and her husband saw bodies piling up in the street.

They wanted to go out and collect them, Yulia said, and they even commandeered a wheelbarrow before a Russian soldier stopped them and threatened them.

“‘If you touch them, you’ll be next,’ he told us,” said Yulia, who asked that only her first name be used.

A tribute of flowers over the site of a mass grave behind the Church of St. Andrew and All Saints in Bucha, Ukraine. (CBC News/Murray Brewster)

The horrors of Bucha and atrocities in places like nearby Irpine — where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited during his trip to Ukraine last spring — are well-known and well-documented, said Michalchyshyn.

“It’s always good to see that Canada is doing more sanctions, but it’s concerning and Canada isn’t keeping up with our allies,” he said, noting that intelligence sharing does take place among allies and Ukraine.

Before the full-on invasion of Ukraine last February, the advocacy group had been pressing Canada to keep in step with other allies in the imposition of penalties, notably the Russian paramilitary company the Wager Group, which Canada was among the last to sanction.

The reticence to go harder and swifter on sanctions has been tough to understand, said Michalchyshyn.

“We were talking to the Canadian government about sanctions for a long time prior to the war,” he said. “And we’re very frustrated that we were falling behind and not seemingly doing what other allies are doing.”

Global Affairs Canada has yet to respond to a request by CBC News about the sanctions.

U.S. considers labelling Russia a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’

Last week, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. House of Representatives is drafting formal legislation.

“To the Biden Administration: You have the complete unanimous support of the United States Senate to label Russia a state sponsor of terrorism. Do it,” U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said last week.

Michalchyshyn said his group wrote to the prime minister weeks ago, asking for similar measures in Canada.

“We feel this is a strong next step forward in terms of providing a broad and sweeping directive to all Canadian government organizations, this list of economy, military trade, all the rest of it, and it would have, we hope, wide, sweeping consequences to further isolate Russia and further harm their ability to fund the war,” he said.

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