WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - Satellite images show a 45-foot-long trench dug into the grounds of a Ukrainian church where a mass grave was found this week after Russian forces withdrew from the town of Bucha, a private US company said on Sunday (April 3).
Maxar Technologies, which collects and publishes satellite imagery of Ukraine, said the first signs of excavation for a mass grave at the Church of St. Andrew and Pyervozvannoho All Saints were seen on March 10.
"More recent coverage on March 31st shows the grave site with an approximately 45-foot-long trench in the south-western section of the area near the church," Maxar said.
Reuters could not immediately verify the images. It was not clear if the images disseminated by Maxar were of the same church visited by Reuters journalists on Saturday.
Reuters and AFP journalists who visited Bucha on Saturday saw bodies lying on the streets of the town, 37km north-west of the capital Kyiv.
Twenty are in civilian clothing, and all have their different poses in death.
Some lie with sightless eyes staring at Ukraine’s overcast sky, some lie face down on the tarmac. Three of them are tangled up in bicycles after taking their final ride, while others, with waxy skin, have fallen next to bullet-ridden and crushed cars.
One has his hands tied behind his back with a white cloth, and his Ukrainian passport left open beside his corpse, said AFP journalists who accessed the town.
Another lies next to a yellow hoarding spray-painted with happy and sad emojis and the words "Live Fast".
A mass grave at one church was still open, with hands and feet poking through the red clay heaped on top.
"All these people were shot, killed, in the back of the head," mayor Anatoly Fedoruk told AFP on Saturday.
Another 280 people have been buried in mass graves in Bucha while
the bodies of whole families still lie in shot-up cars, he said.
Ukraine accused Russian forces on Sunday of carrying out a "massacre" in the town, one of many recaptured by Ukrainian troops as Russia regrouped for battles in eastern Ukraine.
Russia denied the allegations, calling them a "provocation" by Ukraine.
Surrounded by the pine forests that stretch up to Belarus, Bucha was a picture of sleepy suburbia north-west of the Ukrainian capital until
the Russian invasion.
A month of fierce battles in towns like Bucha and nearby Irpin prevented Moscow’s forces from encircling Kyiv some 25km away.
The cost was utter devastation.
Gaping holes from shell explosions can be seen in building after building, while crushed cars litter the streets, said the AFP team who reached Bucha after it had been closed off from the world for nearly a month.
Supermarkets, cafes and houses are burned or destroyed, a church roof damaged. Only a McDonald’s has seemingly escaped untouched.
Bodies lie randomly around the town: outside a railway station, by the side of a road.
But the violence that came to this one street appears to be more systematic.
The victims, all of whom appeared to be men, are scattered over several hundred metres of debris-strewn tarmac.
Sixteen of the 20 corpses were lying either on the pavement or by the verge. Three were sprawled in the middle of the road, and another lay on his side in the courtyard of a destroyed house
Some lie in groups, like the two men lying face up in a puddle next to each other, one in a green parka and the other in a black jacket.
Others died alone. The cyclist with orange gloves and a black balaclava lying on his side with his bike on top of him, as if he has fallen and cannot get back up.
All were wearing civilian clothes – winter coats, jackets or tracksuit tops, jeans or jogging bottoms, and trainers or boots.
Violence is everywhere: a silver car is covered with bullet holes, another is partly crushed, while a burned out van lies near one group of bodies.
"These are the consequences of Russian occupation," says the mayor.