On Sunday, a man lay sprawled by the roadside in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, his hands tied behind his back and a bullet wound to his head, one of hundreds of local residents found dead after five weeks of Russian occupation, according to officials.
Taras Shapravskyi, Bucha’s deputy mayor, said 50 of the dead residents discovered after Russian forces withdrew from the city late last week were the victims of extrajudicial killings by Russian troops, accusing Moscow of war crimes.
In a statement issued Sunday, Russia’s defense ministry claimed that all photographs and videos published by Ukrainian authorities alleging “crimes” by Russian troops in Bucha were a “provocation,” and that no Bucha resident had been harmed by Russian troops.
However, three bodies seen by reporters on Sunday bore bullet wounds to the head, consistent with what Bucha mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk and his deputy described as executions: one with bound hands and two others without.
According to Shapravskyi, the deputy mayor, 300 people were found dead following Russia’s withdrawal. Officials have logged 50 of these as executions carried out by Russian forces, he said.
The others were either killed in crossfire or died for reasons that have yet to be determined.
Tetyana Volodymyrivna, who was sobbing as she pointed to her husband’s shallow grave, a shot of vodka topped with a cracker resting on freshly dug earth, recalled an ordeal at the hands of Russian troops in this city 23 miles northwest of Kyiv.
When Russian troops set up their command center in their building, she and her husband, a former Ukrainian marine, were dragged from their apartment, she said. They were held captive in the apartment building where they lived by the soldiers.
When the Russians arrived in the city, she claimed, they asked people who they were and demanded to see documents. She claims a Russian fighter, who she believes is from Russia’s semi-autonomous Chechnya region, threatened to “cut us up.” She didn’t elaborate on how she discovered he was Chechen.
Tetyana was released after four days of detention. She identified herself by her first name and patronymic but did not provide her family name. For several days, her husband was missing, until she learned of some bodies in the basement stairwell of the building where she and her husband lived.
“I recognized him because of his sneakers and slacks. He appeared to be mutilated, and his body was cold “she stated “My next-door neighbor still has a photo of himself. He’d been tortured, mutilated, and shot in the head.”
She and some neighbors buried her husband’s body in a garden plot near their building after recovering it, just deep enough “so dogs wouldn’t eat him,” she said.
One of the residents said she recognized one of the dead men as a former member of the Ukrainian military who lived in the apartment complex.
Bucha was taken by Russian forces in the days following the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, who swept south, capturing the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear reactor and moving southward toward the capital.
After meeting unexpectedly fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces, the Russian advance from the northwest was halted at Bucha and the northern outskirts of nearby Irpin.
Until Russian forces withdrew north of Kyiv, the area saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the battle for the capital. In late March, Moscow announced that it was regrouping in order to focus on the battles in eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin denies invading Ukraine, claiming that it is conducting a “special military operation” to degrade Ukrainian armed forces and that it is targeting military installations rather than civilian targets.
“This is not a special operation, these are not police actions,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Sunday in Hostomel, near Bucha: “Inhumans who simply committed crimes against civilians.”