Bucha, the city stage of a massacre

Ukraine and Western countries accuse Russian troops of committing massacres and war crimes after the discovery of dozens of bodies in the streets of Bucha, a small town northwest of Kiev, recently reconquered by Ukrainian troops. The town of 37,000 inhabitants, 30 km from the capital, was the scene of the most violent fighting since the beginning of the war, on 24 February.

The Russian army entered Bucha on the 27th of that month, but the battle lasted several days and Russian troops suffered considerable losses. Several civilian evacuation operations took place until March 12, when the authorities declared that they no longer had control or access to the city. The fighting around Bucha did not stop and, at the end of March, Russian troops withdrew from the city. Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk announced on April 1 that March 31 would go down in “the history” of the locality as “the day of his liberation”. What followed, however, was indeed historical, but instead of liberation, there was tragedy.

The discovery of bodies

Walking along Yablonska Street, AFP journalists found, scattered over hundreds of meters, the bodies of 20 men in civilian clothes. The appearance of the bodies indicated that they had been there for a few days. According to Anatoliy Fedoruk, in an interview with AFP, “all these people were shot.” Local authorities were forced to dig several mass graves, as the city’s three cemeteries were within range of Russian fire, making them inaccessible. According to Fedoruk, around 300 people were buried in these ditches. On April 3, AFP staff saw one such ditch at the back of a church grounds, with 57 bodies.

first testimonies

In the days after the bodies were discovered, images of other corpses were published in Bucha, in different places, some with their hands tied behind their backs. Shortly after, the first testimonies began to emerge. “Before my eyes, they (the Russians) shot a man who was going to get food from the supermarket,” said Olena, who lived for a month in a basement without electricity with her two children. According to her, the killings began two weeks after the invasion began, with the arrival of men other than the attacking troops that took over the city. They were agents of the Russian FSB security service, Russian soldiers told Olena. These revelations are not limited to Bucha. In Motyzhyn, 50 km west of Kiev, AFP saw four bodies half-buried in an open trench in the forest. Among them was the mayor of the city, her husband and her son, until then missing.

Russians deny the version

  • Moscow immediately denied that its troops had committed a massacre. The Russian army declared, hours after the photos of bodies in the streets were released, that it had discovered “fakes” that would prove it was a staged scene. Among the justifications are a body that would have moved its hand in a video and another that appeared to be getting up through the rearview mirror of a car.
  • On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was “a gross and cynical provocation” by Kiev.
  • In turn, the spokeswoman for Russian diplomacy, Maria Zakharova, changed the direction of the attack. According to her, either Kiev executed the civilians in Bucha, or transported bodies from elsewhere to fabricate the scene. “Not a single civilian was injured” during the Russian occupation of the city, said Zakharova, who accuses “the media, especially the American ones, of complicity in this punitive action to kill civilians”.

After the horror, the search for family members

After weeks of horror during the Russian occupation, the inhabitants of Bucha are desperately searching for their missing relatives, after dozens of bodies were found over the weekend in the village situated on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital.

Some hope to find them alive, others are resigned and already know what happened to their friends, neighbors and colleagues. Tetiana Ustymenko lost her son and two friends who were shot in the middle of the street. She buried the three bodies in her garden. Oleh Onyshchenko desperately searches for two members of his family in a field filled with fifty body bags. He believes that his relatives were burned and that he will not be able to recognize them, although he hopes to find a ring or a ring to identify them. Another city resident, Oleksandre Kovtun, is still hopeful. He has not heard from his son, but believes he may have been taken prisoner by the Russian army during their retreat to Belarus.

“My son was dead”

On Kiev-Mirotska Street there is still a car riddled with bullets. Inside, stains of clotted blood on the seats. The bodies are gone, because they were transferred to Tetiana Ustymenko’s garden. The 65-year-old says she buried her 25-year-old son Serguiy and his friends Nastia and Maksym on March 4. A few days earlier, her son suggested taking her away from Bucha, but he thought it would be too dangerous. Unbeknownst to her, he tried to run away. “I heard gunshots, but I was sure he wasn’t there,” she says. “I got a call. I asked, ‘Is that you, my son?’ and a neighbor replied that a car had been shot at by the Russians. He told me my son was dead,” she recalls.

According to her, an enemy sniper killed the three friends: Serguiy was shot in the back, Maksym in the head and Nastia in the legs. The bodies lay on the street for three days before Tetiana’s husband Valerii was able to remove them with the help of neighbors to bury them. “How can I go on living now?” laments Tetiana.

At the municipal cemetery, Oleh Onyshchenko looks at bodies lined up in black bags. A group of police officers are busy with paperwork, writing preliminary reports to identify the dead bodies. Every few minutes they open a new bag. In one, a woman’s arms encircle her lifeless face. In another, the stiffness of the corpse gives the impression of a man standing at attention.

Only hope

Some bags contain only body parts, burnt or cut. Oleh, 49, carries in his pocket copies of his sister-in-law Tamila’s identity documents and the birth certificate of his 14-year-old daughter Anna. They left Bucha in a borrowed car, whose owner saw a video of the vehicle on fire. Nearby, a policeman puts a piece of paper in a bag. “Bucha, man, about 30 years old. Eyes open. Bodily injuries to the abdomen, neck and hands”. “A month ago, no one could have imagined this,” says Oleh. Oleksandre Kovtun’s 19-year-old son, Oleksii, is also missing. “He went to town and never came back,” says the 58-year-old father, who is trying to convince himself that his son has been taken prisoner. In his neighborhood, it is said that a young man from his street was sent to Russia. Could it be his son? “It’s our only hope,” he says.

Western countries dispute Russian argument

Satellite images taken in the last month in the city deny the Russian government’s version, which denies any involvement in the civilian deaths. At least that’s what Western countries maintain. “Russian armed and security forces deployed to this region on March 3,” said German government spokesman Steffen Hebestrei. “There are analyzes of satellite images taken between March 10 and 18, 2022 that show that Bucha’s victims had been on the ground since at least March 10. Reliable data show that from March 7 to 30, inclusive, Russian forces were present in the area”, he adds. “The selective killings by Russian Armed Forces and security units are proof that the Russian president at least accepted these human rights violations and these war crimes to achieve their goals,” continued Hebestreit. German government chief Olaf Scholz told MPs on Wednesday that Russia’s cynical claim that it is a hoax is backfired on those who propagate these lies. “The murder of civilians is a war crime, to be blunt. Its perpetrators or whoever sent them must be held accountable,” he said. Dozens of civilian bodies were discovered last week in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kiev, after the departure of Russian troops. The Kremlin has denied any responsibility for these deaths. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said these were the “worst war crimes” committed since World War II.

Tragedy could be bigger

After the withdrawal of Russian troops last week, Borodianka, a town 50 km northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, is showing signs of violence, with buildings destroyed, clothes on trees and tanks burned. The situation in the town, which is northwest of Kiev, is described by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “much worse” than in Busha. In this small town “there are more victims,” Zelensky said in a video, adding that “every crime will be cleared up and its executioner found.” Ukraine’s attorney general, Iryna Venediktova, announced that rescuers had found 26 bodies in the rubble of two bombed buildings in the city, which had just over 13,000 inhabitants before the war. But “it is impossible to predict” how many deaths there were there, added Venediktova, for whom the locality “is the most destroyed city in the region”.

‘Every executioner will be found’

“Only the civilian population was the target of the attacks: there is no military base here”, he denounced. The prosecutor stated that the Russians dropped cluster bombs and multiple heavy rocket launchers, “which brought death and destruction”. “There is evidence of war crimes by Russian forces at every turn,” she added. “The enemy cowardly bombed residential infrastructure at night, when there were more people,” said Venediktova. She also accused the

She also accused Russian soldiers of indulging in “murder, torture and beatings” against civilians, as well as rape, which is why law enforcement is reportedly collecting evidence for local and international courts. These macabre discoveries have been multiplying for days in the cities of this region devastated by fighting.

The withdrawal of Russian soldiers last week left the marks of the battle for control of Borodianka. On the muddy central avenue, Mykola Kazmyrenko pushes a supermarket cart with aid packages without understanding what happened. “I can’t look, I start to cry,” says the 57-year-old. “People were left homeless.”

Valentyna Petrenko traveled from a nearby town to witness what happened in Borodianka. “When the Russians arrived, they took our cell phones and ransacked our homes. We try to behave normally with them so as not to provoke them,” said the 67-year-old Ukrainian. “A missile landed in our village, my house was in ruins,” she said. “The Russians committed atrocities, lots of atrocities.”

About Abhishek Pratap

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