Retreat of Russian forces uncovers evidence of possible war crimes

A team of journalists found around 20 bodies strewn on the streets in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, while Human Rights Watch has documented two summary executions in other Russia-controlled areas

A civilian victim in Bucha.
A civilian victim in Bucha.SERGEI SUPINSKY (AFP)

The European Union is helping to gather evidence of atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine in order to bring those responsible to justice, said Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, on Sunday. The call comes as the Russian army retreats from areas it previously controlled, revealing the devastation that took place during the occupation.

In Bucha, northwest of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, a team of journalists from the news agency AFP found bodies littered across the street. A few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, on February 24, a convoy of Russian troops tried to cross Bucha on their way to the capital, but were ambushed. According to the AFP, as the troops withdrew, they left around 20 dead bodies lying in the street, some with their hands tied behind their backs.

“Shocked by haunting images of atrocities committed by Russian army in Kyiv liberated region #BuchaMassacre. EU is assisting Ukraine and NGOs in gathering of necessary evidence for pursuit in international courts [sic],” he wrote in a message on Twitter on Sunday, adding: “Further EU sanctions and support are on their way.”

The mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, said that there are another 280 bodies buried in a mass grave. “Some were thrown on the sidewalk, others by the side of a car or a bicycle,” he said in a video shared on Facebook.

The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, called on the ICC to send a mission to Bucha to gather evidence of possible war crimes. “Bucha massacre was deliberate. Russians aim to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can,” he said in a message on Twitter. “We must stop them and kick them out. I demand new devastating G7 sanctions NOW.”

The situation has been condemned by German and British authorities, while the Ukrainian government has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is based in The Hague, to investigate what happened in the town.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Sunday said he was “shocked by news of atrocities committed by Russian forces,” in a message on Twitter, while the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, added that she was “appalled by reports of unspeakable horrors in areas from which Russia is withdrawing.”

In a report released on Sunday, the not-for-profit organization Human Rights Watch said that areas of Ukraine under Russian control have been subject to “summary executions” and “other grave abuses” that could constitute war crimes.

The NGO said that it had documented several crimes against Ukrainian civilians in the Russian-controlled areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv and Kharkiv. According to a press release, these crimes include a case of repeated rape, two summary executions, one of six men, the other of one man, and other cases of unlawful violence and threats against civilians between February 27 and March 14. According to witnesses, the summary executions were carried out in Staryi Bykiv, in the Chernihiv region on February 27 and in Bucha on March 4.

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