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Ukraine updates: Bucha marks one year since liberation

March 31, 2023

Bucha has come to symbolize evidence of Russian war crimes, but now residents are rebuilding. Meanwhile, Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko has called for a truce. DW has the latest.

Slovenia's Prime Minister Robert Golob, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Moldovan President Maia Sandu, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger attend a commemorative ceremony marking the first anniversary of liberation the town of Bucha
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and four other European leaders visited Bucha to mark a year since the town's liberation and discovery of the massacreImage: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

Ukraine on Friday marked one year since its forces liberated the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, with Russian troops leaving behind them the bodies of executed civilians strewn among burnt-out military vehicles in the streets.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attended a ceremony in Bucha alongside Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Moldovan President Maia Sandu and Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger.

"The battle for the foundation of the free world is taking place on Ukrainian land. We will definitely win. Russian evil will fall, right here in Ukraine and will not be able to rise again," Zelenskyy said at the ceremony.

Ukrainian authorities estimate that around 400 bodies of civilians were found in Bucha. Two days after it was liberated by Ukrainian forces in 2022, Zelenskyy visited the town and described the killing of civilians as "genocide."

On the one-year anniversary of the massacre, local residents recalled to DW their memories under occupation and how they are now seeking justice.

Bucha, which was home to 37,000 people before the war, is currently abuzz with construction workers rebuilding homes.

Bucha: 'There was a feeling something horrible would happen'

Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk likened the reconstruction effort to a bustling ant colony on Thursday.

"It's this kind of incredible desire for nothing to visually remind us of what the Russians did and left in their wake," he told the Reuters news agency. "It's in the heart, soul and mind of every Bucha resident."

People sweeping the road in Bucha, Ukraine
Residents of Bucha tidied the streets ahead of events to commemorate the end of Russia's bloody occupation of the townImage: Gleb Garanich/REUTERS

At the Saint Andrew church near Bucha's town hall, where a mass grave had been dug during Russia's occupation, municipal workers constructed a stage for Friday's ceremony.

"It's very important that we don't forget the people who, unfortunately, are not with us today," Archpriest Andriy, who runs the parish, told the AFP news agency.

"It is also important for us not to live in the past, but in the future. To live in the future, you must not only win (and) defeat the occupiers... but it is very important that evil is condemned. Criminals must be condemned, evil must be punished," he said.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova called the brutal scenes in Bucha a "crude and cynical provocation" by Kyiv.

Ukraine marks one year since Bucha killings

Lawyer tells DW Bucha probe a 'process' that will 'take time' 

Arie Mora, a lawyer at an NGO, the Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group, which is part of a coalition gathering and documenting war crimes in Ukraine, told DW that the process of investigating crimes committed in Bucha was ongoing but time consuming. 

"Unfortunately this takes time; identifying suspects, gathering the evidence. So this is rather a process," he said.

Mora explained that due to the difficulty of identifying the individual soldiers who may have committed the crimes, investigators tend to utilize the command responsibility concept in the International Criminal Law. The concept stipulates that those who issue the command can bear responsibility for the crime.

"But identifying the commanders is also something that we should definitely and are definitely looking into, going as high as we possibly can. This is something that can ensure justice for these crimes with a higher likelihood."

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war in Ukraine on Friday, March 31:

IMF board approves $15.6 billion loan package for Ukraine

The International Monetary Fund's executive board on Friday approved a four-year $15.6 billion (€14.4 billion) financing package for Ukraine as part of a $115 billion total international support package, as Russia's invasion stretched into a second year, the IMF said.

The decision is expected to mobilize large-scale concessional financing from Ukraine’s international donors and partners to help resolve Ukraine’s balance of payments problem, attain medium-term external viability, and restore debt sustainability, the fund said in a statement.

It also said the new Extended Fund Facility would allow the immediate disbursement of around $2.7 billion to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the IMF and its Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva for approving the package. “It is an important help in our fight against Russian aggression. Together we support the Ukrainian economy. And we are moving forward to victory,” he wrote on Twitter.

Eastern EU countries demand solution for Ukrainian agricultural exports

Tariffs on Ukrainian agricultural imports may need to be reintroduced if an influx of products that is pushing down prices in European Union markets cannot be stopped by other means, the prime ministers of five eastern EU states said.

In a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the prime ministers of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia said that the scale of the increase of products including grains, oilseeds, eggs, poultry and sugar had been "unprecedented."

Ukraine, one of the world's largest grain exporters, had its Black Sea ports blocked, following Russia's February 2022 invasion. Kyiv was able to fing alternative shipping routes through European Union states Poland and Romania.

Logistical bottlenecks mean large quantities of Ukrainian grains, which are cheaper than those produced in the EU, have ended up in central European states, hitting prices and sales of local farmers.

Among the measures proposed in the letter was a joint solution between the EU and the World Food Program to ensure Ukrainian grain does not end up in EU markets.

Ukraine condemns Wimbledon decision to lift ban on Russian, Belarusian players

Ukraine has condemned the "immoral" decision to allow Russian and Belarusian tennis players to compete at Wimbledon after tournament organizers announced they were lifting a ban imposed in 2022.

Competitors from the two nations will be able to enter the Grand Slam, which starts on July 3, if they are "neutral" athletes and comply with certain conditions.

Players will be prohibited from expressing support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine and those who receive funding from the Russian or Belarusian states, including sponsorship from state-operated or state-controlled companies, will be barred.

The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, said the decision was made after talks with the UK government, Britain's governing Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and international tennis bodies.

Ukraine's foreign minister blasted the decision, urging Britain to bar entry to participants from the two countries.

"Wimbledon's decision to permit the participation of Russian and Belarusian players is immoral," Dmytro Kuleba said on social media.

"Has Russia ceased its aggression or atrocities? No, it's just that Wimbledon decided to accommodate two accomplices in crime. I call on the UK government to deny visas to their players," the Ukrainian minister added.

Russia's military says new mobilization not needed

Russia wants to win the war against Ukraine with the help of volunteers instead of a new partial mobilization, the Russian military said.

"Currently, there has been a significant increase in the number of citizens who have decided to voluntarily participate in military service by contract," said a spokesman for the General Staff of the Russian Armed Services.

"I want to assure you that the General Staff is not planning a second wave of mobilization," he said in a statement.

Putin's partial mobilization last autumn triggered a mass exodus of Russians abroad, while more than 300,000 men were drafted.

Recruiting soldiers who have already completed their military service is another way the military recruits Russians for combat in Ukraine.

On Saturday, the spring draft for basic military service is set to begin, with 147,000 men between the ages of 18-27 expected to be drafted for the year-long service. This is 10% more than a year ago.

Lavrov: West poses threat to Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented an updated foreign policy doctrine on Friday.

During a televised meting of the Kremlin's Security Council, Lavrov said Russia faced "existential threats" from "unfriendly states," pointing in particular to the United States.

He said the new approach would outline "symmetrical and asymmetric measures in response to unfriendly actions against Russia."

Spanish PM asks Xi to talk with Zelenskyy

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday that has pushed for talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

"I encouraged President Xi to have a conversation with President Zelenskyy to learn first-hand about this peace plan of the Ukrainian government," Sanchez said at a press conference in Beijing.

"I believe it's a plan that lays the foundations for a durable peace in Ukraine and is perfectly aligned with the United Nations charter and its principles, which have been violated by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin with his invasion," he added.

Beijing announced its own 12-point peace plan last month, which critics say legitimizes Russia's gains. Sanchez declined to say what Xi told him on the issue.

Foreign journalists can work in Russia, Kremlin says

After Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich was detained and accused of spying "under the cover" of journalism, the Kremlin on Friday said accredited foreign journalists can continue their work in Russia.

"All journalists who have valid accreditation here — I mean foreign journalists — can and do continue their journalistic activity in the country," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "They do not face any restrictions and are working fine."

Civil rights groups have condemned Thursday's detention of Gershkovich and say it is the latest escalation in the Kremlin's campaign to stifle independent journalism in Russia.

Meanwhile, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal has called for the US to expel Russia's ambassador in Washington.

"Expelling Russia's ambassador to the US, as well as all Russian journalists working here, would be the minimum to expect," the newspaper said in an editorial published on Friday.

"The timing of the arrest looks like a calculated provocation to embarrass the US and intimidate the foreign press still working in Russia," it added. 

Russia accuses US reporter of spying

UN rights chief says Russia's invasion threatens humanity

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Voller Turk said on Friday that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has directly caused a litany of severe human rights violations.

"After 13 months of the Russian Federation's war against Ukraine, severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine," he said.

"People across the country face massive suffering and loss, deprivation, displacement and destruction."

He also said the invasion "continues to send shockwaves around the world" in the form of soaring food and energy prices.

"At a time when humanity faces overwhelming existential challenges, this destructive war is tugging us away from the work of building solutions, the work of ensuring our survival," Turk added. "This war defies any reason. This madness must end, and peace must be found."

Lukashenko calls for peace talks

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko called for a ceasefire in Ukraine on Friday.

"I'll take the risk of suggesting an end of hostilities... a declaration of a truce," he said. "All territorial, reconstruction, security and other issues can and should be settled at the negotiation table, without preconditions."

In a scheduled address to the nation, Lukashenko also said a Ukrainian counteroffensive would make negotiations impossible, claimed Russia's leadership would use its "most awful weapons" if threatened with collapse, and accused the West of planning to invade Belarus.

"As a result of the efforts of the United States and its satellites, a full-scale war has been unleashed in (Ukraine) ... a third world war with nuclear fires looms on the horizon," he said.

Russian counter-battery radars dwindling

​​​Russia will have difficulties replacing its destroyed counter-battery radars as the war in Ukraine goes on, the British Defense Ministry said on Friday. This technology detects projectiles and locates the ground weapon that fired them.

In an intelligence update, the ministry said Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian ZOOPARK-1M system as recently as last week.

"​Russia has lost at least six ZOOPARK-1Ms and likely only has a very limited number left in Ukraine," the British Defense Ministry said.

"Regenerating counter-battery radar fleets is likely a key priority for both sides, but Russia will likely struggle because the systems rely on supplies of high-tech electronics which have been disrupted by sanctions."

OSCE to investigate child deportations

The 45 member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced late on Thursday they would investigate allegations of Ukrainian children being deported by occupying Russian authorities.

The Ukrainian government has accused Moscow of illegally deporting thousands of children to Russia.

In December, the OSCE Human Rights Office said these reports were credible and earlier this month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and several other Russian officials over the same allegations.

"We continue to have concerns regarding violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law following Russia's full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine, particularly with regard to the forced transfer and deportation of children by the Russian Federation," Germany's OSCE representative Gesa Bräutigam said.

The findings of the investigation will be presented to "relevant accountability mechanisms" as well as national, regional, or international courts and tribunals.

Russia denies the reports and claims it took the children to safety.

Ukraine says 47 attacks repelled in one day

Ukrainian forces repelled numerous Russian attacks along the eastern front on Thursday, officials said.

"A total of 47 attacks by the enemy were repelled," the Ukrainian military said on Facebook.

The areas affected included Kupiansk, Limansk, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Mariinsk.

Russia seeking arms from North Korea: US

The White House has accused Russia of seeking additional weapons from North Korea for its invasion of Ukraine.

"We have new information that Russia is actively seeking to acquire additional munitions from North Korea," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Thursday.

Kirby said Russia is seeking to send a delegation to North Korea to offer food in exchange for munitions.

He also named a 56-year-old Slovakian national who "has been attempting to broker a secret arms agreement" between the two countries. He has now been placed on the US Treasury sanctions list, which could also impact any business associates.

"Today's action is a clear message that the United States will not relent in targeting those who provide support to Russia's aggression and brutal war against Ukraine," said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"We will continue to identify, expose, and counter Russian attempts to acquire military equipment from [North Korea] or any other state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine."

More DW coverage on the war in Ukraine

The International Olympic Committee's decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes has sparked criticism. DW spoke with the Ukrainian competitors who are pushing back against the decision.

dh,zc/jcg (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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