A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 3, 2022

The Civilians Murdered By Retreating Russians Were Not A Mistake But A Message

The bodies of murdered civilians in Bucha, Ukraine and other areas newly liberated from retreating Russians, were left deliberately, as a warning, by troops possibly assigned to the task like the Nazi "Einsatzgruppen" of World War II. 

There has been little or no attempt to cover up the war crimes, indicating the invulnerability the troops - and their political leaders in Russia - feel they enjoy. The question now is whether the uncovered atrocities will increase western support and decrease the possibility of a negotiated settlement, which may be the outcome Putin hoped these provocations would provide.  JL 

Brett Forrest reports in the Wall Street Journal, image David Schemidt AFP:

Footage taken by the Ukrainian military shortly after Russian forces abandoned Bucha showed streets littered with bodies of civilians, some with their hands tied. “They mined the corpses.” Human Rights Watch on Sunday documented cases of rape and summary executions in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. “The cases documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” that should be investigated as war crimes. The incident is one of 2,500 cases Ukraine’s prosecutor general is building against Russian authorities. The prosecutor has already identified 205 suspects, including members of the Russian military and political leadership

Nearly 300 civilians have been buried in mass graves by local authorities in this small suburb of Kyiv after Russian troops withdrew last week, one of several regions where Ukrainian officials and independent rights watchdogs say they are uncovering evidence of war crimes perpetrated by occupation forces.

Footage taken by the Ukrainian military shortly after Russian forces abandoned Bucha showed streets littered with bodies of civilians, some of them with their hands tied. Human Rights Watch on Sunday released a report documenting cases of rape and summary executions in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, including Bucha, as well as other crimes.

“Kyiv region. 21st century hell. Bodies of men and women, who were killed with their hands tied,” Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote in a Sunday social-media post with images of shallow graves and executed civilians in Bucha and nearby towns. Bucha’s municipality Saturday put the number of bodies it buried in the mass graves at 280, with more being found amid the wreckage.

The reports drew widespread condemnation from Western governments on Sunday, suggesting the mounting evidence of war crimes perpetrated by Moscow’s troops over the past week could alter the international response to the war. It could put pressure on the West to deliver more-powerful weapons to Ukraine and make it harder for some countries to justify continuing to purchase oil and natural gas from Russia. It could also complicate the peace talks currently under way between Ukraine and Russia.

Germany, which has refused to stop importing Russian oil and gas and to supply Ukraine with offensive weapons, should declare an immediate embargo on Russian energy, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told Germany’s Bild tabloid. “Not one more cent should go to Russia,” he said. “This is bloody money that’s being used to massacre people.”

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry compared the emerging evidence of mass killings in Bucha and other areas near Kyiv that the Russian military occupied for more than five weeks to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered by Serb troops.

The Russian Ministry of Defense didn’t respond to a request for comment on Bucha and other allegations of war crimes. The Kremlin has consistently claimed that it is not targeting civilians, despite widespread evidence to the contrary, and accused Ukrainian forces of bombing residential neighborhoods in their own cities.

Under international law, belligerents can be prosecuted for intentionally killing civilians and prisoners of war, destroying private property or engaging in torture, sexual violence, looting or other banned acts.

Russian forces arrived in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv in the first days of the war that began Feb. 24, attempting a lightning attack on the Ukrainian capital that would decapitate President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government and install a new, pro-Russian regime. They got bogged down in fierce fighting with Ukrainian defenders.

After Ukrainian counterattacks disrupted their supply lines and threatened encirclement, Russian forces abandoned the region in recent days as part of Moscow’s new strategy to refocus on eastern Ukraine. A significant part of the Russian contingent near Kyiv was made up of fighters from Chechnya and loyal to that region’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

On Saturday, Ukrainian soldiers raised the country’s flag once again atop Bucha’s city hall, weary yet reveling in Russia’s withdrawal. “The city is completely ours,” said Andrei Verlaty, a deputy commander of Bucha’s territorial defense brigade. “But it’s still not completely safe.” Retreating Russian troops had booby-trapped the building with trip-wired grenades.

Shattered Russian tanks and armored vehicles, their metal rusted and orange from exposure and heat, littered the southwesterly approach to the Bucha. Evidence of fighting spilled onto Bucha’s every street and block. Bullets had sprayed a Red Renault that carried the white flag of truce on its antenna. A bomb had caved in a large warehouse, its walls warped like melted plastic. Cars were flattened like soda cans, run over by tanks. The Garden Center mall was a charred hulk, the dancing school blackened.

On Bucha’s west side, a civilian waved down a group of Ukrainian troops in a minivan who followed him to a metal garage that was burned and smoldering. Inside among piles of ash lay half of a woman’s body, its torso burnt. The man said the woman had taken refuge in her garage during the Russian occupation.

Vasily Shcherbakov, a Ukrainian commander in Bucha, said some 20 bodies of local civilians had been left near a glass factory in town. Russian troops had forbidden townspeople from laying these bodies to rest, he said. “Then they mined the corpses,” he said. “This is a new one.” He said that he had lost count of the dead.

A truck towing a wagon stacked with bodies drove past a leg lying on the grass by the road, its foot wearing a black leather boot. A matching leg and boot lay 20 yards away. Further on was a torso and head. “The dogs have been eating them,” said a Ukrainian soldier.

Locals gathered in the street to tell what they had seen and heard during Bucha’s occupation. “Valentina Ivanovna was shot near that house,” said an elderly woman, indicating an apartment stack. Neighbors pushed close and said they had heard Russians shooting, mostly at night when they hid in their homes.

Onto a rise past a grassy basketball court, a row of bodies was visible in a hole in the ground through a slit in a concrete carapace, eight or nine torsos wrapped in plastic, faces newly lifeless, yet to gray in decay.

A man looking on said that he and others had found a woman dead behind her bullet-riddled apartment door. Down the road from city hall, behind St. Andrew’s Church where the sand was slippery like clay in the rain, there was a slit in the earth. The hole held a pile of bodies, thrown any which way. From the dirt tossed upon them appeared an elbow, a knee, the sole of a running shoe. One body was wrapped in a plastic shopping bag, white with red roses.

The extensive devastation in Bucha and other newly retaken areas has led Ukrainian authorities to institute a curfew in the region until Tuesday morning.

In one recently retaken village near Kyiv, authorities found the body of a Ukrainian photojournalist who went missing while working there nearly three weeks ago. Maksym Levin died after being shot twice by Russian forces, according to a statement from Ukraine’s prosecutor general. Another photographer who was with him remains unaccounted for.

In another village near Kyiv, Motyzhyn, Ukrainian authorities said they found the bodies of the village head, Olha Sukhenko, her husband and her son, who were detained by Russian troops on March 23.

The incident is one of 2,500 cases Ukraine’s prosecutor general is building against Russian authorities for possible war crimes. The prosecutor has already identified 205 suspects, including members of the Russian military and political leadership

Human Rights Watch said in a report released Sunday it had documented several other instances of war crimes by the Russian military in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv regions between Feb. 27 and March 14. These included evidence of repeated rape and the summary execution of six men, as well as looting of civilian property, including food, clothing and firewood, the group said.

“The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” said Hugh Williamson, the group’s Europe and Central Asia director, adding that these should be investigated as war crimes.

The killings in Bucha and other areas that were or are under Russian occupation have sparked calls for an international war-crimes investigation of the Russian military’s behavior. “Reports of Russian forces targeting innocent civilians are abhorrent,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted after images from Bucha emerged. “Those responsible will be held to account.”

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, which represents European Union governments in Brussels, said the EU would assist Ukraine and nongovernmental organizations in gathering evidence to pursue Russia in international courts. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany would reinforce sanctions on Russia and increase its military support for Ukraine.

Kira Yarmysh, the press secretary of jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, posted images of executed civilians in Bucha on social media. “Putin cannot be forgiven for this.”

Ukrainian officials say it would take at least 10 days of demining work to restore access to the areas from which Russia withdrew in the Kyiv and Chernihiv areas.

Oleksandr Bursuk, the head of a linen factory in Dymer, north of Kyiv, said workers’ clothing and personal effects had been looted, as well as a delivery truck, which he said he tracked to Belarus.

“There is no occupation army in Dymer anymore,” said Mr. Bursuk. “As a farewell, our ‘liberators’ were looting everything they could.”

A man returning to the village of Velyka Dymerka filmed the damage he said Russian forces had inflicted on his house. A flat-screen TV had been stabbed with a saber. In a kennel outside, his dog lay dead, apparently shot. “Why would you kill it?” he asked in the video.

Elsewhere in the country, Russia extended its recent pattern of targeting infrastructure far behind the front line. Ukrainian officials said Russia fired missiles at the southern port city of Odessa early on Sunday, igniting fires in some districts, officials said.

Several missiles were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses, according to the city council.

Ukrainian officials didn’t disclose the target of the attack, but Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had used high-precision sea- and air-based missiles to destroy an oil refinery and three storage facilities for fuel and lubricants in the Odessa region, from which fuel was supplied to a group of Ukrainian troops in the direction of Mykolayiv. Photos shared on social media showed thick plumes of black smoke rising above the city.


Post a Comment