Bucha: Bodies tied up, shot and left to rot hint at grisly reality of Russian occupation in Ukraine

There was no sign of the soldiers in the column. In a video showing the destruction, a man could be heard muttering: “I wish you all to burn in hell”.

But this Ukrainian victory will be short-lived; a month-long occupation of Bucha by Russian forces followed.

In recent days, Moscow has claimed – without evidence – that Bucha’s atrocities were staged – calling them “fake” and part of a “planned media campaign”.

But witnesses who spoke to CNN said the carnage in the city began weeks ago.

And the devastation there bears similarities to Russia’s playbook in other cities across Ukraine, where officials say civilian infrastructure has been attacked – with power supplies cut, water cuts and damaged communications towers – making it harder for local residents to resist Russian troops. But Ukraine did not give in.

There have also been reports of looting, disappearances and evidence of indiscriminate killing of civilians since the start of the war.

Horrors on the road

Bucha – once a magnet for young families due to its affordable homes, green spaces and good schools – and other nearby areas, turned into a living nightmare in March when Russian troops stormed the area.

Residents there share hard-to-verify stories of looted homes, senseless murders and failed escapes via the highway from kyiv to Zhytomyr – now a graveyard for destroyed tanks and burnt-out cars.

In Bucha, houses with sloping roofs collapsed under the force of Russian artillery strikes.

Residents say they had no choice but to turn their vegetable gardens and front yards into makeshift graves, as the presence of Russian forces made it impossible to access the local morgue or cemetery.

The bodies are gathered for burial in Bucha on Monday.

Anna Bilous, 48, had lived in Bucha for eight years before Russian troops arrived. She took refuge in her home with her husband and two sons, but around March 4, when the electricity went out and the pipes ran dry, it became clear that they had to leave, he said. she told CNN.

They decided that Bilous and her two sons would flee on foot, heading for the nearby suburb of Irpin on March 9, while her husband would stay behind to look after the family’s elderly neighbours.

The trio traveled on back roads to avoid Russian soldiers, but when they turned into Yablunska Street, the family were stunned to find corpses strewn across the road, including a lifeless man collapsed under a bike.

Bilous believes the man’s body lay there for nearly a month, until he and around 20 other civilians were photographed for the world to see last weekend.

The body of a dead man lies on the ground in a street in Bucha on Saturday.  Part of this photo has been blurred to protect his identity.

The mayor of Bucha described their deaths as an execution.

Bilous’ account and satellite images captured on March 18, shared by Maxar Technologies, show the bodies had been lying on the streets for weeks, since the city was under Russian control – Russia held Bucha until March 31.

On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov continued to deny accusations of brutal killings of civilians in Bucha, saying the allegations are not only ‘baseless, but a tragically well staged spectacle’. and “a fake in an attempt to denigrate the Russian people”. army.”

Execution reports

About a mile away, at a sanatorium on Vokzal’na Street on Monday, Ukrainian officials led reporters into a cold basement where the twisted and bloody bodies of five men lay in an advanced state of decomposition.

Some of those in that dimly lit space had patella. Others, their arms tied behind their backs, had been shot several times. Bullet casings littered the ground.

Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said it was a cruel display of torture and execution by Russian soldiers. CNN cannot independently verify its claim.

The men were killed in the past three weeks, officials said. Their bodies have not yet been identified, as no personal documents have been found.

In a statement, the Russian Defense Ministry denied that anyone was injured.

“Taking into account that the troops left the city on March 30, where were the images for four days? Their absence only confirms the fake.”

Destroyed Russian armored vehicles are seen on the streets of Bucha on Monday.

Officials say Russian forces moved into the sanatorium around the second week of March. Several foxholes, trenches and positions for armored vehicles remain visible around the site; remnants of Russian rations were dumped nearby.

The soldiers painted the outer walls of the facility with the letter “V”, a symbol used by Russia’s Eastern Military District, and used as a synonym for the letter “Z”, as the emblem of the “special military operation ” from Russia.

The gruesome scene proved too difficult for Vladislav Minchenko, who vomited after volunteering to help pull the bodies out of the basement on Monday.

“That’s not what we learned in school,” said Minchenko, 44, who worked as a painter before the war. Raising his hands, Minchenko told CNN that the number of dead bodies he had dealt with since the start of the conflict was “hundreds – not tens – hundreds”.

Hasty burials in a mass grave

Shelling, live ammunition and trigger-happy Russian soldiers made it too dangerous for those injured in the assault on Bucha to seek treatment at the local downtown hospital, residents said.

The local Bucha morgue ran out of space as deaths surged in March; to deal with all the bodies, a tractor was brought in to dig a mass grave in the grounds of the Church of St. Andrew and Pyervozvannoho All Saints, its abbot, Andriy Galavin, told CNN.

“There were too many dead and there was no way to bury them properly because getting to the cemetery was just unrealistic because of the shelling,” Galavin said.

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There was also a lack of resources, such as coffins, due to the explosion of the main bridge connecting Bucha to Irpin at the start of the war, Galavin said.

This weekend, Kyiv regional police and residents believed the remains of at least 150 people had been buried in the grave, but the mayor of Bucha said the death toll could be as high as 300. CNN has not reported could not independently verify these claims. .

Galavin returned to Bucha last week after the town was liberated; he said the plan was to exhume the bodies, identify them through DNA analysis and hopefully provide some comfort to relatives still searching for missing loved ones.

The tip of the iceberg

The devastation wrought in Bucha is just the tip of the iceberg, Ukrainian President Zelensky warned on Monday.

“In many villages in the liberated districts of Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions, the occupiers did things that residents had not seen even during the Nazi occupation 80 years ago,” President Zelensky said. “The occupants will certainly bear the responsibility.”

A grisly example of callous indifference to human life was found in Motyzhyn, a village about 20 miles south of Bucha. Local mayor Olga Sukhenko was found half-buried in a ditch alongside her family members. Ukrainian officials said on Saturday she was killed after being captured by Russian forces.

And Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 11 local mayors were detained by the Russians, which CNN cannot verify.

“Unfortunately, so far we have not been able to get in touch or release any other mayors in the city and we don’t even know, we believe some of them were killed” , she told CNN, promising that the authors would pay. for their crimes against Ukraine.

“We will find them and kill them, and we will punish all those who killed our mayors, our journalists, our priests, our activists.”

As Ukrainian officials rush to clear mines and booby traps left by retreating Russian troops, they fear civilian casualties could be much higher at Borodyanka, 22 km west of Bucha.
On Sunday, Ukrainian military forces cross a destroyed bridge in Irpin, Ukraine.

Oksana Kostychenko and her husband Oleksandr returned home to Borodyanka over the weekend after fleeing the area on February 27. They discovered that their house had been ransacked and looted by Russian soldiers.

The couple also found a dead man in their garden. His arms were tied behind his back and his pants had been pulled down.

“Alcohol is everywhere. Empty bottles in the hallway, under things,” Oksana said. “They smoked a lot, put cigarettes on the table… They lived here as they wanted.”

Anna Bilous and her sons left Bucha on March 10. But the fate of the dead man they saw lying under a bicycle as they fled still haunts her.

“I feel like my sons and I could be in the same place as the man who died,” she said. “I feel the pain and sadness of all those lost people.”

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