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Local authorities want to bring life back to Bucha, but are asking residents not to return just yet. Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk tells DW what things look like on the ground.
In Bucha, just northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the streets were littered with the bodies of civilians after Russian troops had retreated. The civilians had been shot dead. There have been allegations of war crimes. Mass graves have also been found, full of people who had been tortured before being killed. The city's infrastructure is destroyed and life is only beginning to return. DW spoke with Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk.
DW: Mayor Fedoruk, what is the situation in Bucha right now?
Anatoliy Fedoruk: For the fourth day in a row, specialists are busy tracking saboteurs and removing mines. City workers are repairing infrastructure; above all electricity, gas and water. We are dealing with humanitarian issues. We have organized the delivery of food, medicine, hygiene products and pet food.
Since we have neither gas nor electricity, we have procured 1,000 gas bottles and set up gas stoves in different locations so people can cook food. We have supplied gas and stoves to areas where people are living close together. We've also put people in charge of those kitchens.
How many people lived in the area, and specifically in Bucha, before the war, and how many are there now?
Bucha had 50,000 residents. With the surrounding villages, there was a total of 67,000. Currently, there are 3,700 people in Bucha but the number is slowly rising as specialists return to repair critical infrastructure. In other parts of the district, the population has fallen by 30%.
Yesterday I was in Zdvyshivka. There are only 760 of the original 1,780 villagers left. It is terribly sad that six civilians were shot by Russian occupiers there. People in the villages of the northern districts of the Kyiv region came under occupation on the first or second day of the war and had no chance to flee. But people took care of one another, distributing food and medicine to survive the occupation.
Is it known, the exact number of dead in Bucha and its surroundings?
As of last night, it stood at 320 civilians. Experts, criminologists and investigators are now inspecting the bodies, but the number of victims being found is growing daily. They are being discovered on private property, in parks and city squares, where they were buried during breaks in the shelling. People wanted to bury them so that they wouldn't be torn apart by dogs. Every day, we discover more provisional burial sites in villages across our district.
Were people shot or killed by artillery fire?
Almost 90% have bullet wounds, not shrapnel wounds.
The horrific images of mass graves have shocked the world. How many such sites have been found in Bucha?
Three were discovered in Bucha: One on the grounds of a tractor supply company, where the Russian occupiers stacked the bodies of people whose hands had been tied behind their backs into piles, like firewood; one on Vokzalna and Yablonska Streets; and one in a center for kids, where people with bound hands and bullet wounds were also found.
Were you in Bucha during the occupation? Did you yourself see civilians shot?
I was in the community both before and during the occupation, as it's supposed to be. I personally witnessed three incidents in one place. I was in a private home where shots were being fired nearby. It was located on Lech Kaczynski Street. The Russian occupiers had set up a checkpoint there and they simply shot at three cars. In one of them, there was a man with his pregnant wife and two children. Only the man survived. He buried his pregnant wife in a trench the Russians had originally dug as a hideout. Instead of a cross, he put his car's license plate on the mound. The corpses of the children were taken to the church and buried there. I don't know if the man survived or what his fate was.
Are the crimes being documented? Who are the victims and how did hey died? Are representatives of the International Criminal Court involved?
All relevant international and Ukrainian authorities are involved in finding the names of all the individuals who were shot dead — primarily in order to be able to bring those responsible to trial.
Is there looting going on in the city?
The national police are patrolling the streets and there is no looting. After all they have experienced, our citizens could not even imagine that.
Are there any preliminary estimates as to how many buildings have been destroyed?
Our specialists are looking into private houses, but at the moment the details are not final. We know that 112 private houses were completely destroyed and cannot be restored, another 100 or so were damaged. Beyond that, 18 apartment buildings were heavily damaged by artillery fire and burned out. Two of them, prefabricated slab constructions, cannot be repaired. But later, experts will examine which buildings can be saved and which will have to be torn down.
How badly damaged is Bucha's infrastructure?
The most important infrastructure, at the entry points to the city and inside it, has been almost entirely destroyed. On the third day of the war, the Russian occupiers destroyed a substation that supplied the city as well as Ukrainian Railways with power. The substation can't be repaired, we need a new one. The city is particular as far as water supply is concerned because its three districts had three systems. At the moment, the central system isn't functioning and welders are now sealing bullet and shrapnel holes in the pipes.
How long will it take to fix the city's infrastructure?
We are doing everything we can to make sure it is restored as quickly as possible. We counted the days until the Ukrainian army would liberate us. Now it's much the same, we can't wait to get the city back to life. We're giving it our all.
Many people want to go home. When will they be able to return to Bucha?
Right now, Bucha is under curfew and will remain so through April 7. It is unclear what decisions will be made after that. But I would advise citizens whose work does not involve communal, medical or social work to wait until a final decision has been made before coming back. That applies especially to women and children. Because the city currently has no electricity, water or gas.
This interview was conducted in Ukrainian by Lilia Rzheutska.