Bucha will be remembered as one of the most violent and brutal episodes of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The town, located some 30 kilometres from Kiev, joins other parts of the world that have suffered the worst consequences of the war: mass executions, torture, rape, looting.
Russian troops arrived in the Ukrainian city in the first days of the war and remained there until 30 March, when Moscow announced plans to focus its military operation in the east of the country. The scene that the Ukrainian army and international journalists encountered days after the Russian withdrawal reflects the ultimate barbarism of the war. Lifeless bodies bound in manacles, corpses with signs of torture, mass graves, tanks destroyed and abandoned. To these desolate images are added the testimonies of those who survived and witnessed the violence perpetrated by the Russian soldiers.
As citizens told the Associated Press, Russian troops "went from building to building and pulled people out of the basements where they were hiding". The aim was to find some kind of 'anti-Russian' activity. However, as residents of Bucha claim, many people were killed for no apparent reason. Soldiers shot at citizens who went out to look for food, medicine, firewood for heating or help.
My brother sent this to me. Town of Bucha northwest of Kyiv. The amount of dead citizens on one street alone…I just can’t even process. pic.twitter.com/KOSwISih6N— Viktoriia ???? (@ViktoriiaUAH) April 1, 2022
Many of the men were killed in cold blood, others tortured in various ways, including electric shocks, as citizens told the RTVE team. "They were not allowed to leave through the humanitarian corridors and were instead shot as they fled across an open field," a resident of Bucha told The Guardian.
"Bodies were strewn on the pavements and some of the dead had been crushed by tanks," he adds. Even old men were killed in front of their wives. "They shot him dead and ordered the woman to leave," another witness who witnessed the killing of an elderly man told the British newspaper.
The citizens of Bucha, on the other hand, suffered the atrocities that women suffer in armed conflicts. With the beginning of the Russian invasion on 24 February, fears of rape and sexual assault among Ukrainian women also arose, an aspect shared by all invading troops and conflicts that regard rape as a weapon of war.
Bucha has been no exception. Among the corpses, Ukrainian journalists and soldiers found naked women, some of them partially burned, as was the case reported by photographer Mikhail Palinchak. Oleksiy Arestovych, Zelensky's adviser, told AP that Russian soldiers raped many women in the town before killing them and then burning their bodies.
However, there are reports of sexual assaults in other cities in the country. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports the testimony of a 31-year-old woman who was repeatedly raped by a Russian soldier in a village in the Kharkov region. In addition to sexually assaulting her, the soldier physically abused her and cut off her face and part of her hair.
Mariupol is another town where sexual assaults have been reported. Olga Rudenko, editor-in-chief of The Kyiv Independent, has reported a heartbreaking case against a group of girls as young as 10 years old. Meanwhile, Ukrainian intelligence services have released intercepted audio of a Russian serviceman confessing to a family member that members of his brigade raped a 16-year-old girl.
But violence against women does not only come from Russian troops. According to Bethan McKernan, a correspondent for The Guardian, in Vinnytsia, a village in the west of the country, a teacher reported to the police that a member of the territorial defence services dragged her into the school library and tried to rape her. The man was subsequently arrested.
"Rape is an under-reported crime and is a stigmatised issue even in peacetime. I am worried that what we discover is just the tip of the iceberg," Kateryna Cherepakha, chairwoman of La Strada Ukraine, an association that helps survivors of trafficking and sexual violence, told the newspaper.
Mass graves and indiscriminate executions spread to other places around Kiev. In Vorzel, some 50 kilometres from the capital, Russian troops threw a smoke grenade into a cellar and then shot a woman and a 14-year-old boy as they were leaving it, HRW reports. Meanwhile, in Motyzhyn, west of Kiev, witnesses told AP that Russian soldiers killed the town's mayor, her husband and son, and then dumped their bodies in a well in a forest.
In Bucha alone, Ukrainian authorities have recovered the bodies of 410 civilians. The town's mayor, Anatoly Fedoruk, told AFP that 280 bodies were transferred to mass graves because it was impossible to bury them in local cemeteries. Satellite images from Maxar show a large trench of almost 14 metres near St Andrew's Church and Pyervozvannoho All Saints.
Reactions to the massacres have been swift, both from local authorities and international leaders. Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky called the Russian soldiers "murderers, torturers, rapists and looters who call themselves the army and deserve only death after what they did".
Zelensky also again addressed the mothers of Russian servicemen. "I want all the mothers of all Russian soldiers to see the bodies of those killed in Bucha, in Irpin, in Hostomel. The mothers of Russian soldiers should see that." "Look at the bastards you have raised. Murderers, looters, butchers," he added. This is not the first time the Ukrainian leader has spoken directly to the soldiers' mothers. In March he also urged them to prevent their sons from being sent to war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has stressed that the Bucha massacre shows that Russian hatred of Ukrainians "goes beyond anything Europe has seen since the Second World War". Kuleba again called for more sanctions against Moscow, as well as military aid to its partners. "Tanks, combat aircraft, heavy air defence systems. Provide them now," he wrote on his Twitter account.
However, despite the brutal events in Bucha, members of Zelensky's government do not rule out further massacres. "The war crimes in Brovary and Chernigov could be more heinous than those in Bucha. We have eyewitness accounts from friends, relatives and students. We need help to document them," revealed Tymofiy Mylovanov, an economist and advisor to the Kiev Executive. Mylovanov has listed some of the war crimes committed in these places, such as mass rapes or executions of civilians.
"How many more cases are happening right now in the occupied territories?," asks Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential adviser. Podolyak has also addressed Western leaders via his Telegram channel. He asked politicians "who eat well and sleep peacefully at home" to look at the bleak pictures from Bucha. "The main thing, according to our European partners, is not to provoke the Russians," he wrote.
Zelensky himself has even invited former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel to visit Bucha and see "what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years". The president urged them to "see with their own eyes the tortured Ukrainians".
Despite Ukraine accusing the Kremlin of "genocide", Moscow defends that the images were "commissioned" to blame Russia. "Who are the masters of provocation? Of course, the United States and NATO," said Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
Moscow has also called for a meeting of the UN Security Council while accusing the Ukrainian army of "provoking" and "disrupting" peace talks. In parallel, the pro-Russian propaganda machine has also defended the "innocence" of Russian troops, arguing that the crimes were committed by the Ukrainians themselves.
The UN, for its part, has called for the launch of an investigation for "effective accountability". "We are not yet in a position to comment directly on the causes and circumstances of the civilian deaths in Bucha, but what is known raises serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes," the UN said.
The West has expressed its rejection of the massacres committed by the Russian army, as well as its support for the Ukrainian people. In this regard, Germany has expressed its openness to discussing a Russian gas embargo on Europe. Berlin, Gazprom's main customer, has so far resisted suspending energy imports from Russia, citing the dependence of its economy and that of other European countries.
However, recent events in Bucha seem to have marked a turning point in Europe. "Putin and his supporters will feel the consequences," warned Chancellor Olaf Scholz. French leader Emmanuel Macron has also called for new and "very clear" sanctions in the energy sector."
"In the coming hours there may be a debate on the issue of hydrocarbon imports from Russia," Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio announced on Italian TV channel Rai 3. For his part, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares stressed that "war crimes must be promptly investigated and those responsible punished".
A resident of Bucha shows her daughter's body.She was shot dead by a Russian soldier on the first day during the occupation of the city.— Cargo-200?? (@RF200_NOW) April 4, 2022
The woman went out of the gate to look at the column of equipment,.#BuchaMassacre pic.twitter.com/iKUD6X5Ob9
Despite the solidarity expressed by European representatives, there is still strong sympathy for the Kremlin within the continent. A sign of this is the recent election victory of Viktor Orbán, Hungary's president. The populist leader has provoked controversy within the EU over his stance on the war in Ukraine. Orbán has decided not to take a stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he has a close personal relationship.
The Hungarian leader also acknowledged six enemies during his speech after his victory. "We have had to fight a lot of opponents," Orbán began, citing several of his political enemies, including the Hungarian left, "bureaucrats" in Brussels, the international media, "and the Ukrainian president" Zelensky.