Bucha massacre

2022 massacre of civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha

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Bucha massacre
Part of Russian war crimes, the Battle of Bucha and Kyiv offensive
Місто Буча після звільнення від російських окупантів 01.jpg
Photo of Bucha civilians reportedly killed by Russian soldiers.
LocationBucha, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine
Coordinates50°32′55″N 30°13′15″E / 50.54861°N 30.22083°E / 50.54861; 30.22083Coordinates: 50°32′55″N 30°13′15″E / 50.54861°N 30.22083°E / 50.54861; 30.22083
DateMarch 2022
TargetCivilians
Deaths300+ (per Ukraine)[1][2][3]
PerpetratorsRussian Armed Forces (denied by Russia)[4][5]

The Bucha massacre was the killing of civilians by the Russian Armed Forces during its fight for and occupation of the Ukrainian city of Bucha amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photographic and video material of the massacre emerged on 1 April 2022 after Russian forces withdrew from the city. According to the mayor, more than 300 inhabitants of the city were found dead in the aftermath. Ukraine has asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what happened in Bucha as part of its ongoing investigation of the invasion.[6][7]

Russian authorities denied any wrongdoing, and described footage and photographs of dead bodies as a provocation or a staged performance by Ukrainian authorities.[8] These denials have been refuted by Bellingcat,[9] Deutsche Welle,[10] The Economist,[11] BBC,[12] and The New York Times.[13]

Background

Bucha massacre is located in Kyiv Oblast
Bucha
Bucha
Kyiv
Kyiv
Location of Bucha in Kyiv Oblast

As part of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military entered the country across the southern border of Belarus. One of the initial moves was a push towards the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, as part of which a huge column of military vehicles moved north of Kyiv. On 27 February 2022, Russian advance forces moved into the city of Bucha, making it one of the first outlying areas of Kyiv taken by Russian forces.[14][15] According to Ukrainian military intelligence, the Russian forces occupying Bucha were the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade of the 35th Combined Arms Army.[16]

In late March, prior to the Russian retreat from Kyiv, Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova stated that Ukrainian prosecutors had collected evidence of 2,500 suspected cases of war crimes committed by Russia during the invasion and had identified "several hundred suspects".[17] Matilda Bogner, the head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, also raised concerns about the precise documentation of civilian casualties specifically in regions and cities under heavy fire, highlighting the lack of electricity and reliable communications.[18]

Under attack by the Ukrainian military, Russian troops in the Bucha area retreated north as part of the general Russian retreat from the Kiev area. Ukrainian forces entered the city on 1 April.[19]

Reports

During the Russian offensive

Burned bodies of killed civilians in Bucha, April 2022

According to The Kyiv Independent, on 4 March Russian forces killed three unarmed Ukrainian civilians who were driving back from delivering food to a dog shelter.[20] At around 7:15 AM on 5 March, a pair of cars carrying two families trying to escape were spotted by Russian soldiers as the vehicles turned onto Chkalova Street. Russian forces opened fire on the convoy, killing a man in the second vehicle. The front car was hit by a burst of machine-gun fire, instantly killing two children and their mother.[21]

After the Russian withdrawal

A dead person inside a destroyed car in Bucha, April 2, 2022
Executed people with wrists bound in plastic restraints, in a basement in Bucha, 3 April 2022

The video footage to emerge following the Russian withdrawal was posted to social media on 1 April, and showed mass civilian casualties.[9][22] According to the mayor of Bucha Anatoliy Fedoruk, "hundreds of Russian soldiers" were also among the bodies found in the region.[23] Subsequently, further evidence emerged which appeared to show war crimes committed by Russian forces while they occupied the region.[24] Soldiers of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces said they had found eighteen mutilated bodies of men, women, and children in a summer camp's basement in Zabuchchya, near Bucha.[25] Footage released by the Ukrainian army appeared to show a torture chamber in the basement.[26] One of the soldiers said that some of the bodies had cut-off ears or pulled out teeth, and that the bodies had been removed a day before the interview.[25] Corpses of other killed civilians were left in the road.[23] An investigation by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty verified the basement was used as an "execution cellar" by Russian forces.[27]

A report published by The Kyiv Independent also included a photo and information about one man and two or three naked women under a blanket whose bodies Russian soldiers tried to burn on the side of a road before fleeing;[19] Ukrainian officials said the women had been raped and the bodies burnt.[28] Journalists writing for The Kyiv Independent also consider that photos indicated that Russians forces had singled out and killed Ukrainian civilian men in an organised fashion, with many bodies having been found with their hands tied behind their backs.[19]

Many of the victims appeared to have been going about their daily routines, carrying shopping bags.[3] Footage showed civilians dead with their hands bound. Other footage showed a dead man next to a bicycle.[29] Journalists entering the city themselves discovered the bodies of over a dozen people in civilian clothes.[30] CNN,[31] the BBC,[32] and AFP[33] released video documentation of numerous dead bodies of civilians in the streets and yards in Bucha, some of them with tied arms or legs. BBC News said of the 20 bodies on the street, some had been shot in the temple and some bodies had been run over by a tank.[34] On 2 April, an AFP reporter stated he had seen at least twenty bodies of male civilians lying in the streets of Bucha, with two of the bodies having tied hands.[35][36] Fedoruk said that these individuals had all been shot in the back of the head.[30]

Testimony from residents

Residents and the mayor of the city said that the victims had been killed by Russian troops. They also indicated many of the survivors had been hiding from the Russians in basements, too scared to come out. Some of them had no light or electricity for weeks, using candles for heating water and cooking. They came out of hiding only when it was clear the Russians had left, welcoming the arrival of Ukrainian troops.[3]

The Guardian cited eyewitness accounts who said that the Russian forces placed Ukrainian children on their vehicles while moving in order to use them as human shields.[37]

The Economist reported an account of a survivor of a mass execution. After getting trapped at a checkpoint when it came under fire from Russian artillery, the man was captured by Russian soldiers, along with the construction workers he was sheltering with at the checkpoint. The soldiers moved them to a nearby building being used as a Russian base, strip-searched them, beat and tortured them, then took them to the side of the building to shoot and kill them. The man was shot in the side, but survived by playing dead and later fleeing to a nearby home.[38]

Residents, talking to Human Rights Watch (HRW) following the retreat of the Russian forces, described the treatment of people in the city during the occupation: Russian soldiers went door to door, questioning people, destroying their possessions, and looting their clothes to wear themselves.[39] HRW heard reports that civilians were fired upon when leaving their homes for food and water, and would be ordered back into their homes by Russian troops, despite a lack of basic necessities such as water and heat due to the destruction of local infrastructure. Russian armed vehicles would arbitrarily fire into buildings in the city. Russian troops refused medical aid to injured civilians. A mass grave was dug for local victims, and the troops carried out extrajudicial executions.[39] An HRW spokesperson said that it had documented at least one "unmistakable case" of summary execution by Russian soldiers on 4 March.[19][40]

According to a Kyiv resident, who was present at the Bucha headquarters of the territorial defence force, Russian soldiers checked documents and killed those who had participated in the war in the Donbas region of Ukraine. The resident also said that Russian troops killed people with tattoos associated with right-wing groups, but also those with tattoos of Ukrainian symbols. According to his account, in the last week of the occupation, Kadyrovite Chechen fighters were shooting at every civilian they encountered.[41][42] Another resident reported that Russian soldiers checked the cell phones of civilians for evidence of anti-Russian activity before taking them away or shooting them.[43]

A witness told RFE/RL that the Russians "were killing people systematically. I personally heard how one sniper was boasting that he ‘offed’ two people he saw in apartment windows.... There was no need. There was no military justification to kill. It was just torturing civilians. On other blocks, people were really tortured. They were found with their hands tied behind their backs and shot in the back of the head." Locals asserted the killings were deliberate and many reported that in several instances snipers would gun down civilians for no clear reason.[44]

Satellite analyses

External video
video icon Satellite imagery analysis published by The New York Times

On 4 April, satellite images were provided to The New York Times by Maxar Technologies. The Times compared images to video evidence and concluded: "many of the civilians were killed more than three weeks ago, when Russia’s military was in control of the town." The images of Yablonska Street show at least 11 "dark objects of similar size to a human body" appearing between 9 and 11 March. Their location precisely matches positions where the bodies were filmed by a local council member after Ukrainian forces reclaimed the city. A second video on the same street shows three bodies near bicycles and abandoned cars, which according to satellite imagery appeared between 20 and 21 March. The Times concluded that the analysis rebuts Russian claims about the killing of civilians happening after withdrawal of the Russian army.[13]

The satellite images also showed the first signs of excavation for a mass grave at a church in Bucha on 10 March, which was further expanded into an "approximately 45-foot-long trench in the southwestern section of the area near the church" by 31 March.[45]

Reported death count

The mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, said that at least 280 individuals from the city had to be buried in mass graves.[19][35][46][30] Local residents had to bury another 57 bodies in another mass grave.[19] Serhiy Kaplishny, a local coroner who fled but returned, said that as of 3 April, his team had collected over 100 bodies during and after the fighting (including deaths of soldiers and deaths from natural causes). He said that before leaving, he had hired a backhoe operator to dig a mass grave near the church, as the morgue was unable to refrigerate bodies, due to the lack of electricity, and "It was a horror". He also said that since returning, he had picked up 13 bodies of civilians who had had their arms tied and been shot at close range.[47]

The exact number of people killed is unknown.[15] Fedoruk said at least 300 people had been found dead in the immediate aftermath of the massacre,[48] but in an interview with Reuters, deputy mayor Taras Shapravskyi said only 50 of the victims had been confirmed as having been extrajudicially executed.[49] The figure of 300 was later revised to 410, including bodies found in Irpin and Hostomel.[43] Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said, "In Bucha alone the death toll is already higher than in (the Croatian city of) Vukovar."[50]

Investigations

Ukraine

Speech by President Zelenskyy addressing the massacre

The National Police opened investigations into events in Bucha, with the broad area treated as a crime scene.[51] At the same time, the Foreign Ministry requested the International Criminal Court investigation in Ukraine to send investigators to Bucha and other areas of Kyiv Oblast. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also called on other international groups to collect evidence.[52]

Russia

Russia requested a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council, on which it is one of five permanent members, to address what it called a "heinous provocation of Ukrainian radicals", the footage of dead bodies in Bucha, which it claimed was staged.[53] Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Investigative Committee of Russia, ordered an investigation into what he labelled a "Ukrainian provocation", accusing Ukrainian authorities of spreading "deliberately false information" about the actions of the Russian armed forces.[54]

Reactions

Special forces of the National Police are cleaning up the city of Bucha, video by National Police of Ukraine

Ukraine

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the events as a "deliberate massacre". He said Russia was "worse than ISIS" and that Russian forces were guilty of murder, torture, rape and looting. Kuleba also urged the G7 countries to impose "devastating" additional sanctions.[55]

In an interview with Bild, Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko said that "what happened in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv can only be described as genocide" and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of war crimes.[56] President Zelenskyy visited the area on 4 April 2022, to show reporters and the world the reported atrocities in Bucha.[57]

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council on 5 April, Zelenskyy said that the massacre was "unfortunately only one example of what the occupiers have been doing on our territory for the past 41 days",[58] and that Russian forces used tanks to crush Ukrainian civilians in cars "for pleasure".[59] He called for Russia to be held accountable for the actions of its military, and lose its position on the Security Council.[59]

Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the massacre a "fake attack" used against Russia, claiming it had been staged.[60] He said that Russian forces had left Bucha on 30 March while evidence of killings had emerged four days later, following the arrival in Bucha of Ukrainian security service, and claimed that on 31 March Bucha’s Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk had released a video message stating that the Russian army had left the city without mentioning any locals shot in the streets.[60][61] On 4 April, at the United Nations, the Russian represenative Vasily Nebenzya said that the bodies in the videos were not there before the Russian forces withdrew from Bucha.[62]

The Russian Defence Ministry's Telegram channel reposted a report stating that Russian forces had not targeted civilians during the battle. According to the statement, a massacre could not have been covered up by the Russian military, and the mass grave in the city was filled with victims of Ukrainian airstrikes. The Ministry said it had analyzed a video purporting to show the bodies of dead civilians in Bucha, and said the corpses filmed were moving. This claim was investigated by the BBC's Moscow Department, which concluded there was no evidence the video had been staged.[63] Bellingcat favourably cited BBC's account and further put into question the timeline presented by Russian government sources.[9] In particular, Bellingcat journalist and founder Eliot Higgins noted that both the Russian media outlet TV Zvezda and the secretary of the Bucha City Council Taras Shapravsky reported that Russian forces were still present in Bucha at least as late as 1 April.[9]

International organisations

The massacre was condemned by the President of the EU Council, Charles Michel, who said he was "shocked by haunting images of atrocities committed by Russian army in Kyiv" and promised the EU would assist Ukraine and human rights groups in collecting evidence for use in international courts.[64] NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg similarly expressed his horror at the targeting of civilians.[65] UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his shock at the images and called for an independent investigation that would ensure effective accountability.[66][67]

Other countries

  •  Albania – Minister of Foreign Affairs Olta Xhacka called for a proper investigation into the crimes, stating "The images of dead civilians littering the streets of liberated Ukrainian cities, the documented stories of rape, and the shocking destruction of entire towns are the clearest indication yet of the true criminal nature of the Russian regime," she further added that "The world must act. … Albania will work with allies and partners so that these crimes are properly evidenced and investigated."[68]
  •  Australia – Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne condemned the alleged war crimes in a television interview, saying "the butchering of people in mass graves, the murder and the use of rape as a weapon of war ... must be investigated."[69]
  •  Canada – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated on Twitter: "We strongly condemn the murder of civilians in Ukraine, remain committed to holding the Russian regime accountable, and will continue to do everything we can to support the people of Ukraine. Those responsible for these egregious and appalling attacks will be brought to justice". Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly called the Russian actions "shocking" and a "senseless murder of innocent civilians", saying "Canada will not spare any effort, including investigations of war crimes, to ensure that those responsible are held to account".[70]
  •  Chile – The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the alleged massacre and expressed their "concern for the cruel images of murdered civilians in the city of Bucha, Ukraine", calling on the "independent and impartial investigation on these events, to determine responsibilities and sanction under international standards" those who are responsible.[71]
  •  China – Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations Zhang Jun called the reports and images showing civilian deaths in Bucha "very disturbing", at a United Nations Security Council meeting. At the same meeting, Zhang added that the circumstances should be verified and any accusations should be based on facts.[72]
  •  Denmark – Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wrote on Facebook that her "heart cries for Ukraine", adding that "Putin's crimes are heartbreaking, brutal and must never be forgotten".[73]
  •  Estonia – Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that images from Bucha remind one of mass killings committed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and called for details to be gathered and perpetrators brought to court. "This is not a battlefield, but a crime scene", she added.[74]
  •  Finland – Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that war crimes in Ukraine must be investigated, referring to the atrocities in Bucha.[75]
  •  France – French President Emmanuel Macron told France Inter Radio that the actions of the Russian military amounted to war crimes and that "What happened in Bucha demands a new round of sanctions and very clear measures"; Macron suggested targeting the Russian oil and coal industries.[76]
  •  Germany – German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck described the events in Bucha as "unjustifiable" and a "terrible war crime".[77]
  •  Iceland – Iceland Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún R. Gylfadóttir condemned the massacre of the inhabitants of the town of Bucha on the outskirts of Kiev, as well as those who have happened around Kiev. Þórdís said that; "Innocent families, including children, have been robbed of their future. This war must end." She added that the aggressors had to be held accountable for their actions.[78]
  •  India – Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations T. S. Tirumurti condemned the killing of civilians in Bucha, calling it "deeply disturbing", at a United Nations Security Council meeting. At the same meeting, he backed the call for an independent investigation into the incident.[79]
  •  Ireland – Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney stated that the "shocking scenes of atrocities [...] by Russian forces must be fully documented and pursued by an International Court", and that there can be "no impunity" for such war crimes.[80]
  •  Israel – Israel's ambassador to Ukraine called it a war crime.[81] The Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid strongly condemned the massacre and used the term "war crime" for the first time in the context of the war in Ukraine.[82]
  •  Italy – Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said that the images from Bucha are "appalling" and that "the Russian authorities must be held accountable for what has happened". He also expressed Italy's full solidarity with Ukraine and its citizens.[83]
  •  Japan – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that Japan strongly condemned "violations of international law" and stated the country would consider imposing more sanctions on Russia.[84]
  •  Kosovo – Kosovo has sternly condemned the war crimes, with President Vjosa Osmani compared the massacre with the series of massacres by Serbia during Kosovo War.[68] Prime Minister Albin Kurti called for justice in Bucha, tweeting “Mass graves, people brutally killed with body parts missing, burned houses and cities turned to rubble are all familiar scenes from genocidal regimes. The perpetrators of the Bucha Massacre must be brought to justice and Russia must be held accountable.”[68]
  •  Lithuania – Lithuania has condemned the Russian "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis stating that the country will initiate an investigation at the International Criminal Court. Lithuania has also announced that, in response to the events, it is expelling the Russian ambassador and closing a Russian consulate in the city of Klaipėda.[85]
  •  Luxembourg – Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel wrote that he was "horrified" by the massacre of civilians in Bucha and called for an independent investigation into all atrocities against civilians in Ukraine in order to "bring those responsible to justice."[86]
  •  Mexico – Mexico's President of the Senate Olga Sánchez Cordero condemned the "attacks against the civilian population" and the "atrocious images of murdered people lying on the streets", she also expressed the Mexican Senate's "solidarity with the Ukranian people".[87]
  •  Moldova – Moldovan President Maia Sandu called the event "crimes against humanity" and declared 4 April 2022 a day of national mourning in memory of all Ukrainians killed in the Russian-Ukrainian war.[88]
  •  Netherlands – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte wrote that he was "shocked" by reports of "horrible crimes" in areas from which Russia has retreated. He added that it must be "investigated" and that the Netherlands and its partners "would not rest" until "perpetrators of war crimes" were held accountable.[89]
  •  New Zealand – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the reports from Bucha "reprehensible" and that "Russia must answer to the world for what they’ve done".[90]
  •  Poland – Poland's foreign minister called for the international community to help Ukraine investigate the actions of the Russian army in the region around Kyiv, as outrage grew over the discovery of dead bodies in the town of Bucha. "The liberation of the Kyiv region reveals barbaric atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces," Zbigniew Rau, who is also chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for this year, said on Twitter.[91]
  •  Romania – President of Romania Klaus Iohannis commented on "terrible, unspeakable consequences" that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had and that the massacre at Bucha was a reminder that "the whole world that we must stop this illegal aggression" and that those found responsible for it must pay. The Prime Minister of Romania Nicolae Ciucă also condemned the "terrible crimes committed in Ukraine by Russian soldiers" and made a call for punishment by international justice. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania Bogdan Aurescu was another Romanian official who condemned the massacre, also making a call for international justice and expressing his support for an investigation by the International Criminal Court in Ukraine.[92] Afterwards, as a response to the massacre, Romania expelled ten Russian diplomats.[93]
  •  South KoreaMinistry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea expressed serious concerns over the civilian killings in Bucha and supported the United Nations' call for an independent investigation on the killings.[94]
  •  Slovakia – Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger compared the massacre with the "apocalypse of war in former Yugoslavia", saying that the "barbarian spree of Russian soldiers is shocking and will be punished by international community."[95]
  •  Spain – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez expressed "horror, pain and outrage" at the "terrible images" coming out of Bucha, referring to them as war crimes and stating that their perpetrators cannot go unpunished. Sánchez reiterated his support and solidarity to the Ukrainian people. Sánchez stated that he had seen evidence of a "possible genocide" and called for an investigation.[96][97]
  •  United KingdomLiz Truss, the British Foreign Secretary, said that she was "appalled by atrocities in Bucha and other towns in Ukraine" and that "reports of Russian forces targeting innocent civilians are abhorrent". She also said that those responsible would be held to account.[98]
  •  United States – American President Joe Biden said the discovery was "outrageous," called Russian President Putin a "war criminal" and stated that the world had "to gather all the detail so this can have a war crimes trial."[99]
Expulsion of Russian diplomats

As of 5 April 2022, in response to the report of the massacre, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and Sweden have decided to expel some of the Russian diplomats from their countries.[100]

See also

References

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