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Allegations of atrocities near Kyiv — what we know so far

April 4, 2022

Photos and videos from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha show mass graves and the bodies of civilians in the streets. Ukraine has accused Russian troops of "genocide," and Western leaders have promised to respond with sanctions.

A man puts a blanket on a body
A member of Bucha's civilian protection units covers a victim found on the side of the roadImage: Mykhaylo Palinchak/ZUMA Press/dpa/picture alliance

After graphic images from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha began to surface over the weekend, the world reacted with horror and condemnation to the mass graves of Ukrainian civilians, as well as accusations of summary killings and the use of sexual violence as a tool of war by Russian soldiers.

Bucha is a town of some 36,000 inhabitants less than 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the city limits of Kyiv. In late February, it became the target of Russian forces as they advanced on the Ukrainian capital. According to survivors, many citizens stayed in their basements for weeks without light or heat until Ukrainian troops took back the city.

After the Russians pulled back, reports began to emerge accusing Moscow's forces of restraining and then shooting civilians, as well as sexually assaulting local women, whose bodies were left naked and partially burned on the side of the road. Photos and videos showed mass graves around the city.

Independent journalists have confirmed accounts of locals as to the existence of the graves and many of the atrocities committed in the town.

Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk estimated that at least 300 residents had been killed, and some were buried alongside numerous Russian soldiers. Ukrainian newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda reported on Sunday that 340 bodies had been recovered in the town. 

'Horrifying images' in towns near Kyiv

Zelenskyy accused Russia of 'genocide,' slams Merkel

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of committing genocide.

"We are 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," he told US broadcaster CBS.

Zelenskyy also critcized former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel for what he called appeasing Russian President Vladimir Putin, including making major business deals with state-owned enterprises and failing to stand against the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

"I invite Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy to visit Bucha and see what a policy of concessions for 14 years has led to," he said.

International outcry

World leaders and rights groups were swift to condemn the violence in Bucha.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Western allies would agree on further sanctions on Russia in the coming days over its invasion of Ukraine and the "atrocities" committed by Russian troops near Kyiv.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his supporters "will feel the consequences" of their actions, Scholz said in a press statement.

"And we will continue to make weapons available to Ukraine so the country can defend itself against the Russian invasion," he added.

Scholz: 'We will decide on further measures against Russia in the coming days'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter that Washington denounced the "apparent atrocities" committed by "Kremlin forces" and vowed that the US would "use every tool available" to document the killings and bring those responsible to justice.

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also joined in the chorus of condemnation against Putin and the Russian military.

On Monday, Macron told French radio that there were "clear indications" of Russian war crimes in Bucha.

"What happened in Bucha demands a new round of sanctions and very clear measures," he said.

The EU also condemned the "atrocities" for which "the Russian authorities are responsible." The bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that in the wake of the reports, the EU "will advance, as a matter of urgency, work on further sanctions against Russia."

Russia offers contradictory explanations

Human Rights Watch said it had documented what it described as "apparent war crimes" but said it was still "too early" to declare the massacres a genocide, as calls mounted for official investigation into what happened in the city.

Russian officials have alternatively claimed that the footage from Bucha is "staged" or that troops were "provoked" by "extremists," but have provided no evidence for these claims.

Moscow has requested a meeting of the UN Security Council to address the allegations of war crimes.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn 

'Lots of people unaccounted for' – Nick Connolly reports from Kyiv

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.