‘A terrible war crime’: Killing of civilians in Ukraine’s Bucha sparks outrage and calls for new sanctions

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of carrying out a “massacre” and “genocide” in the town of Bucha near Kyiv, where reports and images of dead civilians left on the streets provoked outrage from western powers who vowed to hold Moscow accountable.

Ukrainian officials said its troops found civilian corpses with bound hands, gunshot wounds to the head, and signs of torture after Russian soldiers withdrew from the outskirts of Kyiv. After Ukraine on Saturday announced that it had reclaimed control of the Kyiv region – the first time it has done so since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion on 24 February – the mayor of Bucha, a liberated town 37 km northwest of the capital, said that 300 of its residents had been killed by the Russian army.

Ukrainian prosecutors investigating possible war crimes by Russia have so far found 410 bodies in various towns near Kyiv, the country’s prosecutor general Iryna Venedyktova said later on Sunday.

Communal workers carry a body of a civilian man killed by Russian shelling in town of Bucha

(AFP via Getty Images)

The photographs of bodies strewn across the street, wrapped in bin bags and buried in mass graves in Bucha – as well as the Kyiv suburbs of Irpin and Hostomel – spurred calls from officials in Ukraine and vows from ministers across Europe to impose tougher sanctions on Moscow .

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, said the scores of the dead looked like “a scene from a horror movie”, while Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “Bucha massacre was deliberate. We are still gathering and looking for bodies, but the number has already gone into the hundreds.

“Dead bodies lie on the streets. They killed civilians while staying there and when they were leaving these villages and towns.”

Mr Kuleba urged G7 nations to impose “devastating” new sanctions on Moscow to target its oil, gas, and coal industries, goods exports, and financial sector, and asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to collect evidence of what he called war crimes .

A soldier surveys the destruction left in Bucha

(Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

In an interview with CBS News later on Sunday, Mr Zelensky himself said Russia was committing genocide against his country.

“Indeed, this is genocide. The elimination of the whole nation and the people,” he said, speaking through a translator. “We are the citizens of Ukraine and we don’t want to be subdued to the policy of the Russian Federation. This is the reason we are being destroyed and exterminated.”

Russia’s defense ministry denied that its forces had killed civilians in Bucha, and described photos and videos from the town as “another staged performance by the Kyiv regime for the Western media”.

Moscow has previously denied targeting civilians and has rejected allegations of war crimes in what it calls a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” Ukraine.

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, the UK and US were among those to condemn Russia over the reports from Bucha.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz prepares to give a statement about the killings in Bucha

(AFP via Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the images of dead civilians were a “punch in the gut” and that those responsible must be held accountable.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson denounced Russia’s “despicable attacks” against civilians in Bucha and Irpin, describing them as war crimes and pledging increased sanctions and military support for Ukraine. The British government has vowed to support any war crimes investigation by the ICC and Mr Johnson said it would provide additional funding and investigators for the court.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said “indiscriminate” attacks by Russian forces against innocent civilians must be investigated as war crimes and that the UK would “not rest” until those responsible for “atrocities” in Ukraine had faced justice. Ms Truss added that Russia would not be allowed to cover up its involvement through “cynical disinformation”.

French president Emmanuel Macron, who has spoken frequently with Mr Putin in recent weeks, called the pictures “unbearable” and said Moscow “will have to answer for these crimes”, while Germany’s vice chancellor Robert Habeck said the killings were a “terrible war crime” [that] cannot go unanswered”.

This map shows the extent of Russian invasion of Ukraine

(Press Association Images)

Later, Germany’s leader Olaf Scholz announced that western allies would agree to further sanctions on Russia in the coming days over its invasion and the “atrocities” committed by Kremlin forces in Bucha.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg described the killings as “a brutality against civilians” not seen in Europe for decades, while UN chief Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply shocked” by the images and called for an independent investigation into the deaths.

Meanwhile, fighting continued across Ukraine on Sunday in the sixth week of a war that has driven more than 4 million people out of Ukraine as refugees and uprooted at least 6.5 million people within the country.

Missiles struck near the southern port of Odessa, with Russia saying it had destroyed an oil refinery and fuel depots used by the Ukrainian military to supply its troops.

Ukraine’s Zelensky says Putin is committing genocide

The regional governor in northeastern Kharkiv said that Russian artillery and tanks performed over 20 strikes on Ukraine’s second largest city and its outskirts over the past day, killing some civilians and injuring 23 – although he did not give a death toll.

Evacuation efforts in southeastern Mariupol and nearby Berdyansk were set to continue with a convoy of buses being prepared with help from the Red Cross, although The Independent understands that hopes are low after several previous failed attempts.

The strategic port city is Russia’s main target in the Donbas region, and tens of thousands of civilians there have been trapped for weeks with very little to eat or drink. Several people who managed to escape the city by their own means told The Independent on Saturday that people there were burying bodies of those killed by shelling in mass graves in nursery schools, gardens and parks.

There was little sign of a breakthrough on Sunday in efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict, although Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said talks were set to resume on Monday via videoconference.

Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said enough progress had been made for direct talks between Mr Zelensky and Mr Putin.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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