Russia-Ukraine crisis: War crimes in Bucha, here’s all what you need to know

Updated: Apr 29, 2022, 07:00 PM(IST)

Ukraine and Western countries have accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine ever since hundreds of bodies were found around Kyiv following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area.

Here is what you need to know about the events in Bucha that sparked an international outcry and prompted the West to harshen its sanctions against Russia and boost military aid supplies to Ukraine. (Text: AFP)

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Pleasant suburb devastated

Before the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, Bucha was a family-friendly suburb of Kyiv with around 37,000 inhabitants.

Surrounded by pine forest, it is located around 30 kilometres (19 miles) northwest of the capital.Since the first days of the invasion, like Irpin and other areas around Kyiv, it saw fierce fighting.

The Russian army first arrived on February 27 but only fully took control on March 5, according to Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation that carried out an investigation there.

Ukrainian authorities had carried out several civilian evacuations before this date. It is estimated that around 4,000 inhabitants were left when Russian forces took over.

Following the withdrawal of Russian forces on March 31, the mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk announced on April 1 that the city had been "liberated".
 

(Photograph:Reuters)

First macabre discoveries

Looking around the devastated town, AFP journalists discovered Yablunska Street, one of the longest thoroughfares in Bucha, with 20 bodies in civilian clothing scattered over several hundred metres.

The bodies looked like they had been on the ground for at least several days.

(Photograph:Reuters)

How many dead?

During the month-long occupation by Russian forces, two large mass graves were created to temporarily bury the bodies since the city's three cemeteries were inaccessible because of the fighting.

Following the withdrawal of Russian forces -- some 400 bodies were found -- either in the mass graves or buried in gardens or sometimes lying out in the open, according to local police chief Vitaly Lobas.

Lobas on April 20 said "around 25 percent" remained unidentified, and the majority had been shot dead.

There were similar scenes in other areas in the Kyiv region that were occupied by Russian forces.

In the region as a whole, more than 1,000 civilian bodies have been found, according to Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna.
 

(Photograph:Reuters)

‘War crimes’

On April 4, two days after pictures of the Yablunska dead first appeared in the media, President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the site.

"These are war crimes and it will be recognised by the world as genocide," he said.

On April 13, International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan said while visiting Bucha that a forensic team would be working there, and that Ukraine as a whole was a "crime scene".

Khan said on April 25 that investigators would work with a joint investigation team formed by Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine and supported by Eurojust, the EU's judicial cooperation agency, to facilitate the collection of evidence.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that its investigators during a mission to Bucha on April 9 documented the death of 50 civilians, including by summary execution.
 

(Photograph:Reuters)

Russian denial

Just hours after the first images of the bodies on Yablunska Street were published, the Russian army said the scene had been staged, claiming that two bodies could be seen moving in a video, but an AFP team found that this isn’t true.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of "crude and cynical provocations" while Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Ukraine had either carried out the executions of civilians itself or positioned the bodies.

She accused Western media of "complicity in this punitive action to kill civilians in Bucha".

(Photograph:Reuters)

Hunting the guilty

Despite Russian denials, Ukraine and its Western allies, along with the United Nations, believe they have proof that Russian forces were responsible for the deaths of most of the civilians found dead in Bucha.

Since the very first days, Ukraine has blamed Russia's 64th motorised infantry brigade which was based in Bucha.

Ukrainian prosecutors on Thursday said they were investigating 10 of the brigade's servicemen for war crimes and declared them wanted suspects.

Putin on April 18 signed an official decree praising the brigade for its "mass heroism and valour, tenacity and courage".
 

(Photograph:AFP)

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