The International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine.
Karim Khan, the court's prosecutor, said the probe was requested by 39 countries, including Belgium, Canada, and Iceland. The referrals from the member-states enable Khan to launch the investigation.
The probe, which will cover actions in Ukraine taken since Nov. 21, 2013, will look into allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide committed in Ukraine by any person.
"Our work in the collection of evidence has now commenced," Khan said in a statement.
He called on "all those engaged in hostilities in Ukraine to adhere strictly to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law."
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, and Russian troops and Ukrainian personnel have been battling since then. While reports have indicated that Belarusian troops joined the fray, Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, has denied those reports.
Khan told Reuters that an advance team left the court, which is located in The Hague, Netherlands, and was en route to the Ukraine region.
"Yesterday, I formulated a team, and today, they are moving to the region," Khan said.
Khan's team had already found in a preliminary review "a reasonable basis" to believe crimes were committed in Ukraine and had identified potential cases for investigation.
While U.S. President Joe Biden said it's too early to say Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) introduced a resolution supporting the action.
“The whole international community [needs] to condemn this. This is criminal. This is pure killing of [individuals]. It’s not a war," Spartz told a briefing in Washington.
Multiple leaders have said that Russia is carrying out war crimes, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.
Although neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC, Ukraine gave it authorization over war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of committing war crimes. In one instance, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said Russia shelled a kindergarten and an orphanage in the city of Okhtyrka. Kuleba described the shelling as "war crimes and violations of the Rome Statute," noting that officials were collecting evidence to send to the ICC.
Russian officials have defended the invasion and have accused Ukraine's military of committing atrocities in the Donbas region, which Russian President Vladimir Putin recently recognized as independent from Ukraine.
"Several times we sent signals to Kyiv and its Western puppet masters on the need to stop the violence in Donbas, to comply with the Minsk package of measures, and we have not been heard. After Russia's recognition of the independence of these republics the shelling did not stop, but in fact, it increased and the shelling is ongoing today," Gennady Gatilov, Russia's representative to the U.N., said during a meeting in Geneva.
"In these conditions, the decision to conduct a special operation to stop the tragedy in Ukraine was taken. We had no other choice. This operation is targeted in nature, and there is no fire on civilian sites."