Essays On War

Stanislav Aseyev. Evil Must Have a Name

Evil Must Have a Name

In the Gospel of Luke, there is an episode in which Jesus exorcizes an unclean spirit from a man and asks him: „What is your name?“. The man replies: „Legion,“ as it turned out that several demonic entities had possessed him. Later, this principle would find a place in medieval books on demonology, according to which the acquisition of power over an evil spirit is primarily related to knowing the specific name of the demon, and not just to the corresponding rite.

Evil must have a name.

February 24 raised the question of what ethical system we live in. The answer to this question is also the answer to how the war will end. It is already evident that after thousands of tortured Ukrainian civilians, it will not end at the front.

I’m only 33 years old. In my lifetime I already endured electric-shock torture for 2.5 years in the notorious Russian concentration camp known as Izolyatsia, was released from there on a prisoner exchange, found the concentration camp’s commandant right in the center of the Ukrainian capital and had the special services arrest him. Since then I’ve been attending Palych’s trial (that’s what we all called the head executioner back in Izolyatsia) like a concert or theater performance: he shouts that he was promised to be let off and doesn’t even know why he’s being tried. My Old Testament outlook began from this court case.

For quite a long time, humanity was guided by the ethical imperative „an eye for an eye,“ which is not only characteristic of the Jewish people; it was succinctly formulated by them as possible. The birth of Christianity was marked by the appearance of another paradigm of thinking: „And I say to you: love your enemies.“ Over the millennia, this maxim has been transformed into secular law, a cross between the Old and New Testaments. Its impracticality was first felt on a large scale by the same Jews. After the gas chambers and crematoria of the Second World War, they realized that justice for them goes beyond the boundaries of international institutions. When it came to tracking down Nazi war criminals, Israel went the route of the Old Testament and created the Mossad.

Today, Ukraine is faced with the mass killing of its civilians. Bucha, Izyum, and Irpin are far from the complete list of cities where Russian soldiers left corpses with shot knees and strangulation marks. On April 6, I stood over a pile of bodies burned in a yard in Bucha, the remains of which were eaten by local dogs abandoned by their owners. The Russians simply piled them up and set them on fire. Yablunska Street that day became infamous throughout the world.

It’s clear today that the defeat of Russia at the front without the extradition of war criminals is a new deferred war for the future. It was not enough to physically destroy the Nazi Reich after the Second World War; it had to be destroyed mentally through the condemnation of National Socialism and the public trials of the Nazis. But the world has changed, and it is not necessary to count on the ruins of the Kremlin in the presence of nuclear weapons. Even with radical changes in the Russian regime, Russia will never hand over thousands of its citizens to an international tribunal. Moreover, the practice of the last thirty years proves that few people appear before the actual court; moreover, as a rule, they are not executors. And this is despite mass crimes in Rwanda, the Middle East, the Balkans, etc.

This leads us to a simple but important conclusion: the war crimes committed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine is exclusively our problem, and only we can solve it. But how? Before answering this question, one more fact should be understood: there is no alternative. Without punishment for Russia’s mass crimes, Ukraine will continue to live with deep, unresolved psychological traumas, which in years–perhaps decades–can result in a new war. Actually, this is what’s happening now. The ideology of communism was not condemned as Nazism was, leading to the birth of the doctrine of the „Russian world.“ The Soviet–that is, Russian–system of repressions, executions, and Soviet concentration camps was not properly understood. The past has now caught up with the whole world in the form of Russian missiles.

But herein lies the answer to the question „How?“. Forgiveness without justice is weakness. It is easy to forgive if you are unable to reach the offender. „He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.“ Our national consciousness must abandon the New Testament. At least until the stone is brought in. Otherwise, this „forgiveness“ will be followed by a new barrage of rockets aimed at our children.

Along with a group of former prisoners and investigative journalists, I co-founded the Justice Initiative Fund (JIF). We decided to combine Israel’s experience and the United States‘ practices in our search for Russian war criminals. The Americans have a state-level practice of paying bounties for criminals, and the Israelis searched for Nazi war criminals worldwide after the Second World War. But unlike the Nazis, who scattered far and wide following their defeat, many Russian soldiers will return to their homes in Russia. No matter where they go, we are determined to find them.

What can help with this? To put it simply: Money. If you go to the Justice Initiative Fund’s website, you will find several categories of known Russian war crimes in Ukraine, including the Bucha Massacre and the Boeing MH-17 case.

Each category lists the people who Ukrainian or international law enforcement agencies suspect of committing this war crime. Under each name is the dollar amount JIF has collected in private donations from individuals and legal entities to find them. The Fund will pay this amount to the informant who fulfills one of three conditions: they must either hand over the war criminal to Ukraine, provide information that will lead to his arrest and delivery to the court (for example, his location at the front, in occupied territories, or Russia); or provide new evidence of a war crime that is not yet listed.

What’s next? After receiving such information, JIF pays off the informant and passes the intel on to the Ukrainian special services. Then the matter is up to them.

We want to attach a name to each individual behind the murder, rape, and torture of Ukrainian civilians. And we are ready to pay a reward to those who help us bring Russia’s executioners to justice.

Evil must and will have a name.


Translated by Yulia Lyubka and Kate Tsurkan