The war in Ukraine: why do the Russians commit these atrocities?

The war is cruel and dirty. The idea that modern weapons can lead to a conflict that causes minimal damage, in which civilians are not killed, but only military targets are struck, is absurd.

At least so far there has been none. But should it be as cruel as it is now in Ukraine? And should soldiers deliberately shoot at civilians, women, and children, and rape them?

Yes, unfortunately, this is the hard but correct answer. “I have not witnessed a single military conflict, even one guided by the highest moral values, that has not led to atrocities,” said Thomas Elbert, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Konstanz. He researches traumatic stress and its consequences, especially the consequences of organized violence.

Why do people commit such difficult-to-understand acts during the war? Here are three confusing examples.

Killing is “fun”

A video of the war in Ukraine, shot with a drone, has become extremely popular around the world. It shows many Russian tanks in a deserted part of the Ukrainian city of Bucha. A man pushes his bicycle past the tanks a considerable distance from them. They repeatedly open fire on him – until the man falls dead to the ground. Why?

Thomas Elbert has two explanations. The first is that the soldiers in the tanks may have felt threatened. It would be possible for this man to suddenly pull out a grenade launcher and fire at one of the tanks. The second thing that would probably be difficult for many to understand is, “It’s fun to shoot others,” as Elbert explains. The soldiers are convinced that they are not shooting at people, but at parasites, as suggested by the propaganda machine. It is partly fun for the fighters to aim accurately and hit, the expert notes. The target is more important than whether it is a human being. “Anyone who plays racing computer games knows how much fun it is.”

Rape: “The Right of the Winner”

In war, rape is also not uncommon. In one case, the man was shot and the woman was raped. Finally, she buried her husband in the garden of the house. But why are people willing to do such things? Civilians do not attack anyone and do not pose a threat.

It is often said that rape is used as a weapon in war. However, this is only the case in ten percent of cases, explains Thomas Elbert – it is not often that generals order soldiers to rape women to force the enemy to surrender. Elbert talked to soldiers from different continents about the rape, and they told him the following: after a battle, it was time for what they thought was a pleasure. “And rape, so to speak, is the winner’s right,” Elbert explained. The young men shared: “We would have preferred to have a love affair, but we didn’t. That’s why we took what we could.” According to Thomas Elbert, rape during the war is less related to orders or atrocities – much more due to instinct.

Other researchers disagree: rape is sexualized violence, not a form of sex. The organization for the protection of women’s rights “Medica Mondiale” supports women traumatized by the war from the 90s of the last century. Her website reads: “In war, men are more intense in demonstrating their ownership of the supposedly weaker sex.” According to the organization, rape is a “symbol of the humiliation of the enemy, who cannot protect” their “wives.”

An example of the war in Ukraine: a mother and daughter were raped at the same time and forced to watch the violence against the other. That’s how torture begins, explains Thomas Elbert. “You torture your enemy most horribly, and it’s amazing what people can think of in this regard. There are no limits.” It is about the pleasure of bullying the other. In this way, the perpetrators can vent their hatred, anger, and rage – entirely at the expense of the victims.

The robbery: “The hunter’s hunting instinct”

It is believed that Russian soldiers are stealing valuables in Ukraine – from private homes and shops. Surveillance footage shows soldiers packing up seized items and sending them to their families. Compared to other crimes, this is a minor act, but even it shows that morality, justice, law, and rules no longer apply.

Thomas Elbert talks about predation. The looted washing machine and the stolen iPhone are perceived as motivation and reward. This is usually punishable, but there are no such sanctions in war. The idea of ​​the Russians was to plunder Donbas with its mineral resources and its heavy industry. Why not add a washing machine to that? Elbert sees in the hunter’s hunting instinct an additional incentive for robbery. Not necessarily because of the prey or the victim, but because of the hunt itself.

How to prevent atrocities?

The question that remains is whether there is no way to prevent atrocities. “It’s horrible and intolerable. But war is this. It would be better if there were no wars at all. How can we limit war? This can be done through information,” said psychologist Thomas Elbert. This is also the place for journalists. The only problem is how to reach the target group.

Author: Marco Müller

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