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Fact check: Atrocities in Bucha not 'staged'

Joscha Weber | Kathrin Wesolowski
April 5, 2022

The images of civilians killed in Bucha have shocked the world. The Russian government and pro-Russian accounts claim they were staged and that some bodies were moving. Our DW fact check shows those claims are false.

Bodies on the streets of Bucha, Ukraine
Bodies reportedly lay in the streets for days Image: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP


The images and videos that have been circulating since the weekend from the town of Bucha near Kyiv are gruesome. One road is strewn with bodies of what appears to be civilians. They are not in uniform and some are tied up. The Ukrainian army released the first images on April 1 and 2 and since then international journalists have also been reporting on the events in the town.

Withdrawing Russian troops have been accused of killing civilians: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has spoken of "genocide," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has condemned the "atrocities" committed by Russian troops, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he was "deeply shocked." 

At the same time, an outrageous claim, fueled by Russia, has been circulating on social media — that the atrocities were staged. The Russian defense ministry wrote on its Telegram channel that the videos were "a staged production and provocation." The Russian embassy in Germany claimed that the photos and videos had been staged by the "Kyiv regime for the Western media." Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Mariya Sakharova even claimed that the US and NATO had "ordered" the footage in order to blame Russia.

A screenshot of a video posted in the social media
This video purports to show that the corpses in Bucha are moving

No proof that images were staged

No Russian institution has provided any evidence for these claims, which have been picked up and amplified by pro-Russian social media accounts. The allegedly dead civilians are actors, they say, and the whole incident is one big lie. A video is being held up as proof that allegedly shows corpses on a street in Bucha.

Claim: "More about the 'fake massacre' of Bucha. The 'corpse' on the right of the image is moving its arm," one user claimed. Another user asked sarcastically: "Bodies litter the streets, it's a scene of horror...but wait, one of them is moving its hand? And another is suddenly standing up? What are they playing at here?"

DW Fact check: Wrong

The video that's mentioned above shows neither a corpse that is raising its hand nor one that suddenly stands up.

We checked both the claims and localized the scene of the incidents. The video is of Yablunska Street in the south of the town of Bucha. Google Street View footage of the road from 2015 shows a few buildings that are recognizable in the video even though it's clear that more construction has come up on the street since then. The vehicle from which the video was shot is traveling northeastwards.

DW team: Russian Bucha claims false

The first claim alleges that the hand of one corpse is moving. The body being referred to is to the right of the image, which the vehicle is passing. It is true that in the coarsely pixelated shot of the body something does seem to be moving as the image nears, but it's not a hand.

Image analysis by DW shows that there is a drop of rain on the windscreen of the vehicle from which the footage is being filmed. This raindrop, which moves upwards because of the wind through the open window, creates an impression of movement in the video. Another version of the video, with better resolution, clearly establishes that this is a raindrop and not a movement of the hand.

DW asked digital forensics expert Dirk Labudde, professor at Mittweida University of Applied Sciences, for a deeper analysis of the video footage. He dissected the video into its individual images (frames).

Labudde was able to determine that the moving object in the video was "merely an artifact detectable across frames on the windshield of the vehicle from which it was being filmed. Upon closer analysis, no movement of the person was detected."

Curvature of rearview mirror creates supposed movement

The second claim relates to another body that the vehicle, from which the video is being filmed, passes. This corpse is alleged to have stood up after the car passed it with the image briefly seen in the rear mirror.

Again, this is a misrepresentation. The body continues to lie on the ground, as DW was able to determine in the video analysis. The movement of the vehicle in conjunction with the panning of the camera forward may be an explanation for the misinterpretation. Since exterior mirrors usually have a curvature, the field of view appears enlarged.

In fact, a slowed-down rendering of the video shows that the body is still on the ground even in the reflection of the rearview mirror. Digital forensics expert Dirk Labudde also comes to this conclusion: "Due to the changing camera perspective as well as the uneven curvature of the side mirrors, and the accompanying distortion of the reflection, a change in the mirror image can be perceived. This change appears in such a way that it appears as if the person in the side mirror is moving. However, the change is coherent with immobile points of the person's environment. This leads to the assumption that no actual movement of the person occurred while the camera was recording it."


Corpses allegedly on the road since March

Research by the New York Times provides more information: satellite images by the US company, Maxar Technologies shows that the bodies seen in the footage were already lying there on March 19 and, in some cases,  as early as March 11. A before-and-after comparison of satellite images taken on March 19 and the above-mentioned video of April 2 shows that the bodies were in exactly the same position on the road. These images refute Russian claims that the corpses only appeared on the road after the withdrawal of Russian troops on March 30.

It is not the first time in this war that Russia has rejected allegations of war crimes and dismissed evidence of atrocities as fake. It also claimed that the attack on a hospital with a maternity ward in Mariupol last month had been staged with actors, without providing any proof.

Since then, ample evidence has been collected to prove that they took place and its impact on the civilian population has been documented. 

This article was originally written in German. It was updated after the publication of the New York Times analysis and inputs by forensics expert, Dirk Labudde, professor at Mittweida University of Applied Sciences

Tatjana Schweizer contributed to this article.