Horror has surfaced in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, following the withdrawal of Russian troops on Thursday. The sight of numerous bodies of what look like murdered civilians has shocked the world. The Ukrainian government is accusing Russia of perpetrating a premeditated massacre of hundreds of people, and it wants Moscow, which denies responsibility for the events, to pay for it. Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy is talking about “war crimes” in Bucha and other parts of the country. So far, according to municipal sources, 280 civilians have been buried in a mass grave since the Russians retreated on March 31.
At noon on Sunday there were still uncollected bodies of civilians lying on the streets of Bucha, as EL PAÍS was able to confirm first-hand. This town of 35,000 residents, located around 12 miles (20 km) from the capital, has become the latest backdrop for the horrors of war since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 24 order to invade and attack the former Soviet republic. Russian soldiers arrived in Bucha on the morning of February 27 and found themselves in hell. Larisa, 72, witnessed the “terrible battle” that took place right outside her home.
“It was 9am. The tanks were advancing and the ‘brave’ Russians were riding them, confident about victory. My son counted 72 of them in total. My son said ‘Get up, quick! It’s getting started!’ When I got up, they were already on their way back. There, on the bridge, they were not allowed to cross into Irpin. And then our Bayraktars [combat drones] began to squash them!,” she explained on Sunday evening, standing in front of a charred tank sitting right outside her door.
“Everything was in flames. One hand showed up there; another one near the basement. There were legs ripped from bodies. It was horrific,” she said. After this initial defeat, the Russians returned and captured the town on March 5. Larisa said that men dressed in black asked her son for his papers and took away their cellphones. During the entire time, the Russian troops were seeing the remnants of the attack that ended their fellow soldiers’ lives. Hatred had been running high since that morning of February 27, according to testimony from local residents.
Now that the Russians have withdrawn, bodies of dead civilians have been found in different parts of town. Some of them had their hands tied behind their backs and had been shot in the head, according to eye witnesses and local authorities. Reporters for Associated Press counted at least nine bodies wearing civilian clothes, two of them with their hands tied and apparently shot at close range.
Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk has blamed the killings on Chechen fighters who are collaborating with the Russian army. He showed reporters for Reuters two of the bodies; one’s hands had been tied and he had been shot in the mouth. The dead are “entire families of children, women, grandmothers and men,” said the mayor in a video shared on Facebook. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, has called it the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. The minister said that several hundred people may have been executed.
The not-for-profit group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement that it has documented “several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine. These include a case of repeated rape; two cases of summary execution, 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, 2022.”
Life goes on as best it can in the liberated town. Dozens of people were lining up in the snow in front of the hospital on Sunday to get food. “They are serving hot food today. It’s a bit humiliating for us to have to eat what they give us,” said Vladimir, 63.
A woman who was also standing in line but declined to give out her name said that the walls of her house cracked from the blasts and that she and her family almost stopped venturing outside entirely. “The Russian soldiers passed right by but they did not come in. You could see bodies on the streets,” she explained.
For Moscow’s troops, there was early defeat on February 27, when a column of combat vehicles entered town through Vokzalna street. They were on their way to Irpin and from there to the capital, Kyiv, their ultimate target. But the Russian column was bombed, turning the street into hell. A local resident recorded images of tanks in flames shortly after the strike, adding insulting comments in Russian as he went, and these videos went viral.
It seemed unbelievable that Russia’s powerful military machine could be thus received just a few days into the invasion. After weeks of intense fighting in northwest Kyiv, the Russians have withdrawn from the area without achieving their goal of entering the capital and overthrowing the government of Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
There are still no figures on the number of Russian soldiers who died on Vokzalna street, which has become a pilgrimage site for civilians and uniformed locals. On Sunday, soldiers and police officers were there to get their picture taken next to the charred remains of Russian tanks. Others continued to count the number of executed civilians.