Ukrainian president accuses Russia of ‘genocide’
They have been found lying face down in the street, hidden under sheets, wrapped in black plastic and tossed in mass graves.
Some bodies have been burned, others bear signs of torture. Gunshot wounds to the head and hands bound behind the back speak of deliberate executions.
While the war raged on the outskirts of Kyiv for weeks, little was known about what became of those civilians trapped behind the Russian lines. But after Russian soldiers swiftly aborted their attempt to take the capital, an unimaginably grim picture of their bloody occupation has slowly emerged.
Piled in cellars, hastily buried, or left where they fell, corpses have been found in their hundreds in numerous locations in Kyiv suburbs.
These dead were once civilians, wearing civilian clothes, some wearing white arm-bands to further denote their non-combatant status. Women and children are among them.
Kyiv’s outer suburbs absorbed the fury of a Russian invasion force that failed to take the Ukrainian capital, residents paying the ultimate price of the abortive attempt to topple their government. Experts believe the violence was premeditated, consistent with Russian methods in past wars such as Chechnya, where brutalising civilians was seen as an effective method of crushing resistance.
After Kyiv sleeper suburb Bucha was liberated after being under siege for a month, those entering over the weekend found scenes from a horror movie that for local residents had been their final inescapable reality.
They photographed the body of one man laying face down and shirtless on a wet blanket, his hands bound behind his back with white tape. Lying among discarded Russian ration packs and empty food tins on the wet concrete were nine bodies in civilian clothes, all apparently killed at close range.
On another Bucha street another dead man was found next to a pile of wooden pallets with wrists bound behind his back with white cloth. The man wore a brown coat and blue jeans and a disposable razor lay by his knee on the damp gravel. The skin on his hands was shrivelled and his fingernails were blackened.
Two more similarly dressed bodies lay nearby, unmistakably civilian.
Residents told Reuters the men had been shot by Russian troops. On a Bucha sidewalk sprawled the body of a man next to the bicycle he had been riding until the moment of his death. He wore a blue coat and a cap that fell over his eyes. Next to him lay his cellphone, and a satchel that spilled a screwdriver and water bottle onto the ground. A brown dog waiting patiently nearby indicated the dead man had been his owner.
Another cyclist lay dead on a different Bucha street. He died astride the bicycle, his body falling so that his brown Chelsea boots fell by the pedals, an image shared by Ukraine’s defence ministry showed.
Russia denied what journalists had seen, rejecting the allegations of civilian deaths as “yet another provocation” by Kyiv, in a by-now stock response from Moscow’s misinformation playbook.
“It’s clear to the naked eye that there are a lot of fakes and staged shots,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed. To counter this narrative, Ukrainian officials published videos showing evidence of dead civilians.
Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Goncharenko toured Bucha, posting videos of himself standing by mass graves. In another video he stood in front of a shrapnel riddled Renault car to accuse Russia of war crimes.
“A family tried to escape from here and Russian troops just attacked this car,” he said as sleet fell.
“There were three people inside, three women, a girl, her mother and her grandmother. You can see inside the car the body of the grandmother, without a head, it is awful... Russia should pay for these war crimes.”
Anatoly Fedoruk, Bucha’s mayor, said that the corpses of men, women and children had been found littered across the town’s streets.
As sleet fell yesterday rescue workers carried bodies to waiting ambulances. But their recovery work was slowed by the widespread booby-trapping of bodies with mines and explosives, an American volunteer in Ukraine’s international legion told the Telegraph.
“It’s worse even than what has been seen [in the media so far],” he said after returning from Bucha yesterday. “It’s not just in Bucha either but all the towns around it.”
Exiled Russian politician Ilya Ponomarev shared a video of what he said was the body of a woman “shot dead by Putin’s bandits” being uncovered by her mother.
On the first day of the invasion the woman had gone outside her front gate to watch a convoy of Russian vehicles and had been shot dead.
Her mother buried her as best she could, in a shallow grave in a backyard, partially covering the body with wooden planks, according to the account provided by Mr Ponomarev, who now lives in Kyiv after being the only member of the state Duma to vote against Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Accounts of civilian killings have also been reported by numerous witnesses in areas recently abandoned by Russian forces, which withdrew from several dozen settlements around Kyiv this week.
One woman who spoke to the Telegraph yesterday from Irpin, another Kyiv suburb next to Bucha, told of two bodies that were dumped in a park apparently beheaded.
The head of a Ukrainian village abducted by Russian soldiers last month was found dead, according to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.
The abduction of Olha Sukhenko, head of the village of Motuzhyn in the Kyiv region, and her husband was announced by Ukraine’s attorney general on March 26. Mr Vereshchuk said that both had been “killed in captivity” by Russian forces, the AFP reported. He claimed that 11 local community leaders in the regions of Kyiv, Kherson, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Donetsk are also known to have been kidnapped.
“We are informing the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN, all possible organisations, just like for the other civilians who have disappeared,” she said. She also urged “everyone to do everything in their power to get them back”.
Collectively, the widespread distribution of dead civilians in areas recently liberated from Russian forces suggests a pattern of indiscriminate violence against non-combatants, Ukrainian authorities say. They have called on the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes and potential genocide.
The full extent of Russian atrocities is not yet clear – access to recently liberated areas is tightly restricted while Ukrainian forces focus on demining efforts – and while many civilians likely died accidentally in crossfire and shelling, mounting evidence suggests many were deliberately murdered.
This evidence includes a trench filled with 57 bodies, 18 corpses found in a basement, and 20 dead civilians strewn along one street. So far 410 bodies have been discovered in towns near Kyiv, according to Ukrainian prosecutor
Gen Iryna Venedyktova, though more will likely be discovered.
In another video shared by Ukraine’s ambassador to Austria, Alexander Scherba, Ukrainian forces entering a house in Bucha where Russians had stayed discovered the corpses of five executed civilians in the basement.
According to the account Mr Scherba provided, Russian soldiers had slept in one room and interrogated Ukrainians in the next one.
William Hague, former British foreign secretary, said that it was possible Russian soldiers were operating in an environment “where they can treat people however they want”.
“They feel that this is what they are allowed to do and it is part of creating a stigma in a civilian population,” he said.
“There’s emerging evidence of death and torture and this another form of that same terror. In an army with low morale, who have been told to have a low regard for the civilian population, this is what happens.”
Many women, and children, are also believed to have been raped by the Russians during this onslaught.
Mr Hague, who is also the co founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, urged the West to act on collecting evidence.
“Where there are crimes of sexual violence, they need to make sure evidence is gathered so that people can be bought to justice in the future,” he said.
Mr Hague said forensic and legal experts needed to be deployed so that they can care for survivors, and that the West must lead the creation of an international investigatory body, with expertise and resources on conflict related to sexual violence.
He said: “This can’t be agreed at the UN because of vetoes from Russia and China, but it could be set up by a coalition of willing countries and grow over time.”
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general, said that the latest allegations of war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine showed “brutality against civilians we haven’t seen in Europe for decades”.
He said: “And it’s horrific, and it’s absolutely unacceptable that civilians are targeted and killed, and it just underlines the importance that this war must end, and that is president Putin’s responsibility to stop the war. It is also extremely important that the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into potential war crimes in Ukraine and that all facts are brought to the table and that those responsible are held accountable. So therefore, I strongly welcome the investigation by the International Criminal Court.”
Kyiv’s mayor, former professional heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who toured Bucha yesterday wearing combat fatigues and an armoured vest, declared that genocide was being uncovered in liberated towns around Kyiv.
This accustation was repeated by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“This is genocide. The eliminatio n of the whole nation and the people,” Mr Zelensky told the CBS program Face the Nation, according to a transcript provided by the network.
“We are the citizens of Ukraine. We have more than 100 nationalities. This is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities,” Mr Zelensky said.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the death toll would continue to rise. “We are still gathering and looking for bodies, but the number has already gone into the hundreds,” he said, according to his ministry.
“Dead bodies lie on the streets. They killed civilians while staying there and when they were leaving these villages and towns,” Mr Kuleba said.
“The Ukrainian city of Bucha was in the hands of Russian animals for several weeks,” he said.
“Local civilians were being executed arbitrarily, some with hands tied behind their backs, their bodies scattered in the streets of the city.”
Mr Kuleba described the actions of Russian troops as “worse than Isis”. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
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