Case Studies
The Bucha Massacre- A Symbol of War Crime

The Bucha Massacre- A Symbol of War Crime

Since February 2022, there is a war going on between Ukraine and Russia, where Russia wants to occupy Ukraine. Bucha Massacre is the painful outcome of this war, where the Ukrainian civilians were killed mercilessly by the Russian Armed Forces during the fight for and occupation of Ukrainian city of Bucha.

Bucha is a a town neighbouring Irpen, just 37 km northwest of Kyiv, capital of Ukraine. It was in the March 2022, when the Reuter journalists saw bodies lying in the streets, and the hands and feet of multiple corpses poking out of a still open grave at a church ground.

What Happened in Bucha?

According to a few reliable reports, Russian forces occupied Bucha approximately from February 27 to March 31, and during that timeframe they killed hundreds of civilians, some of whom were buried in mass graves.

It has been reported that 458 bodies were recovered from the town, including 9 children under the age of 18. Among the victims, 419 people were killed by weapons and 39 appeared to have died of natural causes, possibly related to the occupation.

The corpses were found with hands bound behind the backs, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture after Russian soldiers withdrew from the area. Ukraine has called it evidence of a “massacre” by the Russian army.

A report cites bodies being found in a shallow mass grave in a church compound, and five bodies with their hands tied found in the basement of a children’s sanatorium that was apparently used as a “torture chamber” for the civilians.

According to a report, Associated Press journalists saw the bodies of at least 21 people in various spots around Bucha.

One group of nine, all in civilian clothes, were scattered around a site that residents said Russian troops used as a base. They appeared to have been killed at close range. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs, one was shot in the head, and another’s legs were bound.

The massacre came into record when the satellite images of this gruesome massacre were revealed in the media.

Bucha Massacre Major Events

27-28th February– This was the time when the battle of Bucha began. Massive numbers of Russian ground forces stretched north through the Kyiv region in attempt to advance toward the capital. Russian artillery shelling and airstrikes continued in the region, damaging infrastructure and killing civilians. Some locals were able to flee or were evacuated, but thousands remained in their homes, hiding in basements and shelters as the bombs rain down from the sky. 

1st March– The first reports of marauding and robberies started to appear from Bucha and Hostomel.

2nd March– Russian aggressors continued advancing, and occupying more towns in the region. Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, and Borodianka remained among the most dangerous areas for civilians due to continuous Russian shelling and ground fighting. 

3rd March– Ukrainian forces temporarily retook Bucha, establishing the supply of humanitarian aid and evacuating civilians.

5th March– Russian occupiers blow up railroad tracks in Irpin, attempting to prevent the evacuation of civilians. 

6th March– The aggressor’s troops intensified violence against civilians in Bucha and opened fire on civilian vehicles trying to flee Irpin. Bucha and Hostomel were occupied by Russian aggressors. Ukrainian authorities tried to negotiate a safe evacuation, demanding invading forces to not target fleeing refugees.

9th March– Ukrainian authorities organized evacuation corridor from Bucha and Hostomel. Only especially vulnerable citizens were allowed on board due to limited space, i.e., women, children, and the elderly.

11th March– Russian forces continued using Bucha as a base of operations, terrorizing local residents, and marauding supplies. An attempt was made by the Russian army to push towards Kyiv once again, but it was repelled by Ukrainian troops.

12th March– Russia amassed troops and continued killing civilians however, the Ukrainian evacuation was partially successful.

17th-21st March– Kyiv sent humanitarian aid to Bucha, Hostomel, and neighbouring villages such as food, water, supplies, and medicine as the towns were in a state of complete humanitarian disaster. 

23rd March– The Armed Forces of Ukraine moved to counterattack the Russian army, encircling Irpin, Bucha, and Hostomel. This was a breaking point in the bloody stalemate. Ukraine was finally able to attempt to liberate its cities from enemy occupation, as Russian forces were failing due to poor logistics and chaotic command.

25th March– The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky awarded Bucha and Irpin, the status of hero cities for fighting the Russian invasion.

1st April– Bucha was liberated by the Ukrainian forces.

Human Rights Watch Report

Following the incident, when the Russian forces withdrew from the area, the Human Rights Watch researchers worked in Bucha from April 4 to 10.

While working there they found extensive evidence of summary executions, unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, all of which would constitute war crimes and potential crimes against humanity.

The researchers interviewed around 37 Bucha residents out of which 32 were contacted in person and 5 others by phone, that included the victims and witnesses, emergency responders, morgue workers, doctors, a nurse, and local officials.

They also got some physical evidences in the town, such as- original photographs and videos provided by witnesses and victims, and satellite imagery. All these were documented and analyzed.

The cases documented represent a fraction of Russian forces apparent war crimes in Bucha during their occupation of the town.

A witness told Human Rights Watch that “soldiers forced the five men to kneel on the side of the road, pulled their T-shirts over their heads, and shot one of the men in the back of the head”.

A lady victim told the Human Rights Watch researcher that a Russian soldier had repeatedly raped her in a school in the Kharkiv region where she and her family had been sheltering on March 13. The researcher reported that they examined the photographs and medical records of the woman who is now receiving treatment in Kharkiv where she fled after the gruesome incident.

Many residents said that Russian forces shot indiscriminately at civilians who had ventured outside. 

A nurse said that she treated 10 people with serious injuries, including a girl who was shot while trying to run away from Russian forces. The man she was running with was killed and the girl’s arm had to be amputated.

Bucha’s chief regional prosecutor told Human Rights Watch on April 15 that over 600 bodies had been found across Bucha district, which is within the Kyiv region and has a population of about 362,000. 

How Russia Reacted on Bucha Massacre?

When images emerged, of the bodies of dead civilians lying on the streets of Bucha, some with their hands bound, some with gunshot wounds to the head, the Russia’s Ministry of Defense denied responsibility.

Russia denies targeting civilians and rejects war crimes allegations. The ministry said that, “The bodies had been placed on the streets after all Russian units withdrew completely from Bucha” around March 30.

Russia claimed that the images were “a hoax” and called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on what it called “provocations of Ukrainian radicals” in Bucha.

Moscow claimed that the deaths occurred after its forces left the area, and that Russian soldiers never harmed a single civilian.

But an analysis of satellite photos, first reported by the New York Times, shows bodies were strewn across Bucha’s streets and yards long before Russian forces beat a hasty retreat.

As per Reuters report, Kremlin or Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that “It is simply a well-directed but tragic show” and appealed to the international community to “compare the facts and understand what a monstrous forgery we are dealing with.”

Conclusion

As Russia is denying the claims, so whether the pictures were forged or not, the accounts from multiple sources of Russian atrocities have left little to imagination. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has already launched an investigation into possible war crimes by Russia.

Both Russia and Ukraine have described talks held in April 2022, in Istanbul and by video link as “difficult”. Ukraine is also conducting investigations of the war crime at its level. In fact the Ukrainian forensic scientists are using the French mobile DNA lab vans for identifying the victims of the massacre.

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