EXPOSED: Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine


Russia has been accused of war crimes in Bucha, near Kyiv. PHOTO/DREAMSTIME



Russian soldiers have been accused of committing atrocities in Bucha one of the town’s in Ukraine before retreating.

Some of the alleged survivors of the Russian atrocities have recounted their ordeals as security analysts say the development marks a wake-up call for the Western powers.

And UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, has said credible reports indicate that Russian armed forces have used cluster munitions in populated areas of Ukraine, at least two dozens times since they invaded on February 24.

“For more than one month now, the entire population of Ukraine has been enduring a living nightmare,” Ms Bachelet said. “The lives of millions of people are in upheaval as they are forced to flee their homes or hide in basements and bomb shelters as their cities are pummelled and destroyed.”

Calls for Russia to be held accountable for war crimes in Ukraine have intensified in response to reports of mass civilian killings in areas that had previously been held by Russian forces.

“The Russian military and those who gave them orders must be brought to justice immediately,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded during an address to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday. President Biden said Monday that images of bodies lying in the streets of Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, reinforced his administration’s belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a war criminal.”

The U.S. State Department formally accused Russia of war crimes nearly two weeks ago after reviewing reports that Russian forces had deliberately targeted civilian sites, including schools, hospitals and a theater that was being used as a bomb shelter. Russian soldiers have also been accused of committing a long list of other atrocities, many of which are being painstakingly documented by international agencies and independent watchdogs.

And in a related development, the UN Human Rights Council has announced the names of the three investigators who are to carry out the work of the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which the forum voted to establish on 4 March.

They are Erik Møse of Norway, Jasminka Džumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Pablo de Greiff of Colombia.

The panel’s mandate includes investigating all alleged rights violations and abuses committed during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine, along with related crimes.

Speaking four days after Russian troops retreated Bucha, Oleh Matsenko, said he was particularly frightened when a column of dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles slowly drove by – surrounded by infantrymen peeking into the doors and windows of the houses on his street.

“They were shelling all the time, around the clock, and all the shells flew over my house,” Matsenko, who survived 33 days of Russian attacks in Bucha, a once-tranquil town northwest of Kyiv, told Al Jazeera.

Some of his neighbours left their dark, cold houses that had no electricity, running water or natural gas supply to get bread or charge their mobile phones – but never came back.

One day, he went to a market that survived the shelling to get food for himself and several friends and neighbours who flocked to his house, which was warmed by a wooden stove.

And he saw bodies – mostly civilians shot dead by Russian troops.

“I saw it all, the piles of corpses in the streets, all dead. I saw it all, they are still lying there, not everyone was collected,” Matsenko said.

His story confirms the scope of the mass killings of civilians that became evident – and visible – only after Ukrainian forces and journalists entered Bucha on March 31.

Russians sprayed bullets in all directions, firing at any movement in a street or a window, at anything warm they saw in their heat visors, said survivors, officials and the military.

They shot anyone who resisted their presence, interrogations and looting – or simply looked suspicious, they said.

Decomposing under the warming sun, the bodies of men, women and children were seen lying in the streets, sitting in the bullet-ridden, fire-damaged cars in which they tried to flee, according to photos, media reports and officials.

Several bodies were found inside apartments and houses with gaping holes made by shells and explosions. Some had their hands tied, some had traces of torture. Others were found in mass graves, barely covered with soil and garbage.

Bucha’s mayor reportedly said that hundreds of bodies have been found – and the count appears far from over.

“In Bucha, we have already buried 280 people in mass graves,” Anatoly Fedoruk told the AFP news agency on Saturday.

The bodies of 410 civilians were removed from Bucha, the neighbouring towns of Hostomel and Irpin and smaller villages around Kyiv, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venedyktova said on Sunday, April 3.

The Russian Defence Ministry called them “another production of the Kyiv regime for the Western media”.

The ministry claimed on Sunday that all Bucha residents “had the opportunity to freely leave”, and claimed that the southern suburbs “were fired at around the clock by Ukrainian troops”.

Security Council Meets on Situation in Ukraine. PHOTO/UN

Ukrainian intelligence claimed on Monday to have retrieved the names of all Russian servicemen from the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade, which seized Bucha and carried out the ostensible murders.

“Every Ukrainian should know their names!” the Main Department of Reconnaissance said on Monday.

Observers already compare the mass murders to the horrors of World War II – or the Yugoslavian wars of the early 1990s.

The only difference was that the Russians never collected the bodies of their own soldiers.

“The specifically Russian thing is that after a month of being in Hostomel, the Russian army never cared to send home or at least bury the bodies of Russian special forces who died in the first wave of landings,” Nikolay Mitrokhin, a Russia researcher with Germany’s Bremen University, told Al Jazeera.

The reported killings in Bucha and neighbouring suburbs have been compared to the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Bosniak Muslims by ethnic Serbian militants in the town of Srebrenica.

“The analogy is not coincidental,” Kyiv-based analyst Aleksey Kushch told Al Jazeera.

Duped by the Kremlin’s announcements that said Ukraine needed to be “liberated” from neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists, Russian troops found themselves among a “stormy sea” of hostile civilians, he said.

They resorted to killing adult males and raping women as the only way to “suppress resistance and achieve a collective nervous breakdown”, he said.

Ukraine armed forces distributes humanitarian aid and food to local residents of Bucha who spent a month under Russian occupation. PHOTO/DREAMSTIME

To many in the West, the Bucha killings became a wake-up call, the first chance to see the scope of mass killings of civilians that amount to war crimes – or even genocide.

“The world cannot be tricked anymore; the spotlight is on Putin and his forces,” Ivar Dale, a senior policy adviser with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a human rights watchdog, told Al Jazeera.

He said he visited Bucha while living in Ukraine – and sees that “the level of evil is nearly incomprehensible”.

In her update to the Geneva forum, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also told the Human Rights Council, that her Office had verified dozens of incidents in which medical facilities have been damaged, including 50 hospitals.

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