Ukraine recalls Bucha deaths a year on, blames Russian war crimes

Friday March 31 2023
Bucha victims

A man on March 30, 2023 walks among graves of unidentified local people who were killed in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, a day before the celebration of the first anniversary of the Bucha liberation from Russian troops on March 31. PHOTO | SERGEI SUPINSKY | AFP


Ukraine on Friday marks one year since Russia withdrew from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, leaving the bodies of executed civilians strewn in the streets in what has become a symbol of alleged Russian war crimes.

Russian forces on March 31, 2022 withdrew from the commuter town northwest of the capital, just over a month after President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.

In their wake, they left behind scenes of horror that shocked the world.

AFP journalists on April 2 discovered the bodies of at least 20 people in civilian clothing, some with their hands tied behind their backs, lying in a street of the suburb.

During a visit to Bucha two days later, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky described the killings of civilians as "genocide".

Ukraine Leader Zelensky



Russia denies accusations

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian troops of war crimes after the discoveries at Bucha, pointing to an abundance of footage and witness accounts.

But Moscow denies the accusations, claiming the atrocities in Bucha were staged.

Many foreign leaders and officials who have visited Ukraine since the war started have made a stop in Bucha.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he had a "strong sentiment of indignation" while in Bucha last week.

After Russia withdrew from near Kyiv, the fighting shifted to the south and east of Ukraine, with the embattled city of Bakhmut now the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle since the invasion.

Read: Russia vows to capture Ukraine's Bakhmut

‘Continue to live’

But a year after it was retaken by Kyiv's forces, Bucha has not forgotten its victims.

The community of what was once a family-friendly suburb is rebuilding, and locals told AFP 'the pain subsides' and that they must 'continue to live' despite their collective trauma.

AFP on Thursday saw dozens of construction workers weaving between diggers and dump trucks, as they worked to rebuild homes and roads in the town, which had a pre-war population of some 37,000 people.

“It is important not to forget those who are not with us today,” Archpriest Andriy who runs a local parish told AFP.

"But it is also important for us not to live in the past, but in the future," he added.

In the weeks following Russia's withdrawal from other towns near Kyiv, hundreds more bodies were found in homes, basements and shallow graves across the north.

ICC issues warrant

Ukraine wants to establish a special tribunal to prosecute Russia's leaders, but there are complex legal disputes over how it could work.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) earlier this month issued an arrest warrant for Putin over the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court.

The International Criminal Court headquarters at The Hague in Netherlands. PHOTO | AFP

Read: ICC judges issue arrest warrant for Putin

Chief ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has described Ukraine as a "crime scene".

Russia has repeatedly denied any abuses by its forces.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova during a press briefing on Thursday called the brutal scenes in Bucha a "crude and cynical provocation" by Kyiv.