Nearly 300 found in mass graves: Evidence of civilian killings outside Kyiv as Russian military retreated

People walk on a street in Bucha, north-west of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

KYIV (AFP, REUTERS) - Evidence has emerged of possible civilian killings around Kyiv as the Russian army pulled back in the face of ferocious resistance from Ukrainian forces.

In the town of Bucha, near the capital city, the bodies of nearly 300 civilians were found - some  in mass graves - after Russian troops withdrew, local officials said.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Sunday (April 3) the killing of civilians in Bucha was a “deliberate massacre”.

“Bucha massacre was deliberate. Russians aim to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can. We must stop them and kick them out. I demand new devastating G7 sanctions NOW,” Mr Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

“Kyiv region. 21st century Hell. Bodies of men and women, who were killed with their hands tied. The worst crimes of Nazism have returned to EU,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak tweeted.

“This was purposely done by Russia. Impose an embargo on energy resources, close seaports. Stop the murders!”

AFP reporters saw at least 20 bodies on a single street, including one with his hands tied, and the body of a missing photographer was discovered in a nearby village. 

“All these people were shot,” Bucha’s mayor Anatoly Fedoruk told AFP, adding that 280 other bodies had been buried in mass graves in the town. 

Russian forces reportedly Bucha sacked on their way out. “They went from apartment to apartment collecting televisions and computers, loaded them on their tanks and left,” Ms Svetlana Semenova, a retiree, said of the Russian departure, which she described as chaotic. “They left in a hurry.” 

When the town was liberated, a few dozen people who had been living mostly in basements for a month staggered outside to collect food – bags of potatoes and bread – brought by Ukrainian soldiers.

In Bucha, 16 of the 20 corpses found on one street were lying either on the pavement or by the verge. All were wearing civilian clothes - winter coats, jackets or tracksuit tops, jeans or jogging bottoms, and trainers or boots. 

Some lay with sightless eyes staring at Ukraine’s overcast sky, some lay face down on the tarmac. One has his hands tied behind his back with a white cloth, his Ukrainian passport left open beside his corpse. Another dead person lay on his side in the courtyard of a destroyed house. 

Reuters journalists saw the hands and feet of multiple corpses poking out of a still-open grave at a church ground. 

Many residents tearfully recalled brushes with death. 

“The b*****ds!” Vasily, a 66-year-old man said, weeping with rage as he looked at more than a dozen bodies lying in the road outside his house. “I’m sorry. The tank behind me was shooting. Dogs!” 

“These are the consequences of Russian occupation,” said Mr Fedoruk. 

Ukrainian troops, meanwhile, were seen patrolling in armoured vehicles and on foot through the ravaged town, where some women wept as they stood outside their homes. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered tanks into Russia’s pro-Western neighbour on Feb 24, and Ukraine estimates 20,000 people have been killed in the war so far. 
More than 10 million have had to flee their homes. 

Ukrainian authorities said on Saturday the body of a well-known photographer, Maks Levin, had been found near a village in the region around Kyiv that had been caught up in the fighting. 

Mr Levin became the sixth journalist killed in the war, according to Reporters Without Borders. 

Prosecutors said Mr Levin, who was unarmed, “was killed by servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces with two shots from small fire arms”. 

Mr Levin, a 40-year-old father of four, had been reported missing on March 13; the body was found on April 1. 

The International Criminal Court has already opened a probe into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine, and several Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, have accused Mr Putin of being a “war criminal”. 

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Soldiers from the Azov battalion, a Ukrainian paramilitary group, survey the burned remains of a Russian convoy in Bucha, on April 2, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

He said it was not possible to tell how many civilians had been killed during fighting with Russian forces.

Authorities will clear the corpses after sappers give them the green light in "three or four days", he said.

Ukrainian forces regained control of Bucha this week. The town had been inaccessible for almost a month as it was held by Russian forces.

A body lies on a street in Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
Bodies lie on a street in Bucha, north-west of Kyiv, on April 2, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

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