Bucha is not only a cemetery of Ukrainian dead, it is a cemetery of Russian weapons


Six charred bodies are found in a residential area of ​​Bucha, a suburb of kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, on April 5, 2022. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

The corpses, charred and partially dismembered, lay amidst a pile of rubbish on a piece of land at the edge of a forest. Scraps of ragged clothing clung to shreds of skin. Who was a man, who was a woman, who was an adult, who was a child? This was not possible to determine at a glance. A severed, badly burned leg was found some distance away.

This board was about 100 yards from a playground with swings and slides, tucked away in shaded woods.

A Ukrainian forensic team, each member wearing blue plastic gloves, worked with practical speed. They passed a group of reporters, hid under crime scene tape, and quickly gathered the pieces and placed them in black bags. Some mixtures of parts seemed inevitable, as the corpses were so intertwined. The workers zipped the bags tight and hoisted them into the air, to be taken to the morgue.

Bodies in black bags lie near tombstones

Dozens of bodies await burial in a cemetery in Bucha. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

This city ​​northwest of kyiv, the capital, was a pleasant place to live, say the locals. An idyll of woods, ponds and parks. Bucha retains a semi-rural vibe despite the inevitable advance of urban sprawl: malls, condo towers, health clubs.

Now Bucha has become notorious as ground zero of what the Ukrainian authorities call it a Russian war crime, a deadly rampage targeting civilians, some found with their hands tied behind their backs, apparently victims of summary executions. Video footage of victims lying along a street stunned the world – and gave new impetus to The request of the Ukrainians more military aid to fight off the assault and more sanctions against Moscow.

People “were killed in apartments, houses, blown up by grenades”, President Volodymyr Zelensky told the United Nations Tuesday, adding that some in civilian cars “were run over by tanks… in the middle of the road. To have fun.”

At least 417 bodies of civilians have been discovered in towns in the Kyiv region recently recaptured from retreating Russian forces, according to Ukrainian officials. Who were they all, how exactly did they perish, are questions that remain under investigation as authorities scramble to identify the dead in a war that has dragged into its second month.

Russia has denounced the scenes in Bucha and other nearby towns as fake – a “staged anti-Russian provocation”, in the words of Sergei Lavrov, Moscow’s foreign minister.

Here in Bucha and other suburbs, however, one sees how the world, despite collective outrage fueled by Twitter videos of killings and satellite photographs of troop movements, seems powerless to stop such atrocities. Authorities continue to collect bodies from shallow graves, streets, courtyards and other sites, including the vacant lot from which the six victims were removed on Tuesday. The remains of the six, like those of some other victims, were burned in a clumsy effort to cover up the crime, authorities said.

A man, right, wearing a hooded jacket and blue gloves carries a black body bag with the help of another man

Ukrainian police transport a body found in Bucha. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

As they round up the dead, officials and the military are also engaged in another task: clearing the numerous mines, piles of unexploded ordnance and other combat debris left behind in Bucha and other formerly occupied towns. Warning signs, “Danger: Mines”, dot the area. Some buildings could be trapped, warns the army.

But the misplaced munitions and equipment littering the streets were not deliberately abandoned. Their presence is a consequence of Russia’s ignominious strikes on the northern fringes of kyiv and the subsequent withdrawal of its forces. Bucha is not just a cemetery for Ukrainian dead; it is also a graveyard for Russian war material, and possibly the place where Moscow’s apparent intention to storm kyiv quickly and take the capital failed.

A street in Bucha starkly bears witness to the hammering inflicted on Russian equipment and the failed ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The burned remains of a dozen Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers, and at least one tank truck, mark a three-block stretch of town. The scale of the destruction seems paradoxical in this tree-lined street, where chickens peck in the adjacent courtyards. A twisting mess of ammunition, shards of metal, spools of wire, scraps of tires, bandoliers, tank tracks are strewn about – a blackened tank turret sits in the front yard of a house.

It’s a scene of obliteration, as if a fire-breathing giant had vented its fury, tearing machines apart with claws of steel. The wreckage is the result of a Ukrainian ambush, complete with drone strikes, apparently just days after the February 24 Russian invasion. It is not known how many Russian soldiers were killed in the attack and how many escaped. Among the ruins is a military boot with splintered bones visible inside.

Experts combed through the scene, removing potentially dangerous munitions. But journalists were invited to tread the rubble – in a sort of surreal parade – and broadcast images of a routed Russian column around the world.

The houses along this street and others are mostly vacant. For Bucha these days it’s a ghost town. Most residents fled the Russian blitz, joining millions of other displaced people. Curtains flutter through the blown windows of high-rise buildings where no one lives anymore.

Only about a tenth of Bucha’s pre-war population of around 30,000 remains, Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk said. He warned residents to stay away until mines and other hazards were cleared and power was restored.

People wearing winter clothes and knitted hats gather in front of an open door of a vehicle with open boxes inside

Ukrainians in Bucha await the distribution of humanitarian aid. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

Residents seeking food and other aid gathered outside a shopping mall on Tuesday that had been hit by artillery and looted. Bullet shells, shrapnel and broken glass litter the field. A scorched power station stood across the street, its dire state not too promising for workers seeking to restore power.

Stray dogs fought over leftover food in the vacant parking lot.

Many of the residents crammed outside were older. They were unable or unwilling to flee the Russian onslaught. Many have lived for weeks without electricity, running water and heating.

“I would just like to be warm again – take a hot bath and be clean,” said Lisa Andreshenko, 46, who was queuing for help. “It seems like forever since we were warm, had a nice hot meal.”

Snow showers blew over the commercial strip.

Despite the circumstances, Leonid Mutnichenko, a 58-year-old pensioner, showed good humor. His family had a secret weapon: an old wood-burning stove that he and his mother had almost thrown away, but which now – without heat or electricity – has come in very handy. He was laughing at the trickery of it all.

He was quick to introduce his mother, Valentina Kusovkova, 80, draped in layers of shawls and condoms. She did not complain of the cold.

She had bigger thoughts: “We have to save our country,” she said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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