Charred body parts lay scattered over the streets of Bucha for days after a man was killed with a grenade, while men under 50 were stripped naked, tied up and summarily executed by Russians, traumatised civilians have revealed as more vile stories emerge from the Ukrainian town.
Survivors from the month-long occupation of the town in Kyiv oblast have started to describe their gruesome treatment at the hands of Putin’s invading troops after area was liberated.
Mykola, a 53-year-old resident, spent a month hiding in the cold and dark cellar of his apartment building with his wife after witnessing callous executions on the streets of his hometown.
He told ABC that when the Russians arrived, they killed all men aged under 50 and then ordered him to bury his friends within 20 minutes.
Two of his friends were shot in front of him and another was hit by a grenade, blowing his body to pieces, which lay untouched for days until Mykola was allowed to quickly gather his parts in a bag and bury them in a shallow grave to ward off the dogs.
Vanya Skyba told The Economist how Russians rounded up a group of builders, ordered them to strip naked and lie face down on the floor while their bodies and phones were searched for evidence of military tattoos or anti-Russian sentiment.
Serhii Lahovskyi, 26, and other residents carry the body of Ihor Lytvynenko, who was killed by Russian Soldiers after they found him hiding in a basement
Bodies of civilians in plastic bags lay in a mass grave in Bucha city, whose horrors were revealed after it was recaptured by the Ukrainian army
A Ukrainian serviceman stands amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6
More than 30 bodies in black bags were lined up in a Ukrainian cemetery in Bucha before being taken to the morgue
Policemen work on the identification process following the killing of civilians in Bucha, before sending the bodies to the morgue
A man carries a coffin next to the plastic bags with corpses of civilians while police work in the investigation process in Bucha, before sending the copses to the morgue
City workers carry body bags with six partially burnt bodies found in the town of Bucha, among an estimated 400 civilian corpses
Olia, 53, (right) hugs her neighbour who returned to Bucha after the town was liberated from Russians who killed civilians and then partied in their homes
Lahovskyi, 26, mourns by the body of his friend Ihor Lytvynenko whose corpse lies under a rug on the streets of Bucha
One of the men was killed as an example to make the group talk, forcing one of the men to admit he had been a member of Ukraine’s territorial defence who had served in the Donbas, prompting the Kremlin thugs to execute him too.
The others were beaten and tortured until an order to kill was issued by a Russian saying: ‘F***ing do them in.’
They were led to the side of the building and each shot, and Skyba took a bullet in the side which went through his body. He played dead on the concrete floor until he heard silence when he fled over a fence to a nearby home.
He was later found there by Russians from a different unit who believed his cover story he was the owner of the home, but they led him back to the cellar where he had been shot where he sheltered with a dozens woman and children until they were freed.
After the savage killings, locals said Putin’s army occupied the dead civilians’ homes, drinking their alcohol, partying and stealing their belongings.
Volodymyr Abramov, 72, was dragged from his home along with his daughter Iryna, 48, and her husband Oleg, 40, after they smashed through his front gates, opened fire and threw a grenade inside the building.
As he tried to put out the flames with a small fire extinguisher, he shouted for Oleg to come and help before a Russian soldier menacingly told him: ‘Oleg will not help you anymore.’
Volodymyr’s son-in-law had been forced to kneel and was shot in the head at point blank range without even asking him a question, Iryna said.
After the savage killings, locals said Putin’s army occupied the dead civilians’ homes, drinking their alcohol, partying and stealing their belongings
Field engineers of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine conduct mine clearing among destroyed vehicles on a street of Bucha
Serhii Lahovskyi, 26, hugs Ludmyla Verginska, 51, as they mourn their friend Ihor Lytvynenko who is being buried behind them
She told the BBC: ‘They didn’t ask anything or say anything, they just killed him. They only told him to take off his shirt, kneel down, and they shot him.’
Iryna found the soldiers calmly drinking water next to his disfigured corpse after the shooting, and Oleg’s body remained there for a month before it was safe for the family to return from a relative’s house nearby.
Yuriy Nechyporenko, 14, and his lawyer father Ruslan, 49, were cycling to the city’s administration building on March 17 to receive aid when they were stopped by a Russian soldier.
Yuriy told the BBC: ‘We told them that we weren’t carrying any weapons and that we didn’t pose any danger.
‘Then my father turned his head my way, and that’s when he got shot… He was shot twice in the chest, right where the heart is. Then he fell.’
The teenager was then shot in the hand causing him to fall to the ground where he was then shot in the arm. A third shot rang out, aiming for his head but the bullet went through his hood, and once the Russian left, he was able to get up and run.
Red Cross worker Valentina Cherkai says she is not surprised by the many horrific stories emerging from the war.
The 21-year old volunteer told The Mirror: ‘I saw burnt out cars with, how can I describe it… remains of people inside. I saw dead bodies near the roads.’
The medical student has been carrying out evacuation missions around Kyiv, and managed to rescue an elderly couple in Bucha who had not left their apartment in three weeks with no heating or electricity and hardly any food.
Vladislav Kozlovsky, who returned to Bucha at the outbreak of war to care for his mother and grandmother, told The Telegraph how two men he knew had tried to escape through an abandoned glass factory but were found by the Russians. One was shot in the back of the head. The other had his cheek cut out before being shot in the heart.
Red Cross worker Valentina Cherkai (pictured) says she is not surprised by the many horrific stories emerging from the war
Repairmen restore local communication cables among the debris of destroyed armoured vehicles and buildings on a street in the town of Bucha
Journalists report next to a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine
Debris of destroyed Russian armoured vehicles is seen in the Kyiv oblast city after Russian troops withdrew
Ukrainian soldiers recover the remains of four killed civilians from inside a charred vehicle in Bucha
A view of the destruction left behind by Russians after the Ukrainian army regained control of Borodyanka
A Ukrainian woman cries among the ruins of the ghost town Borodianka that was the scene of heavy clashes for weeks
A Christian reverend prays for the Ukrainian war victims among the ruins, as the Russian attacks continues, in Borodianka
A monument to Taras Shevchenko, a Ukrainian poet and a national symbol, in seen with traces of bullets against the background of an apartment house ruined in the Russian shelling in the central square in Borodyanka
Volodymyr Pilhutskyi, another Bucha resident, recounted how his neighbour was taken away by Russian troops because he was wearing military-style trousers which were deemed ‘suspicious’. He was tortured and killed, Mr Pilhutskyi said, with burn marks from a flamethrower found on his body.
Ukrainian armed forces say they have uncovered a Russian torture chamber, located inside a children’s hospital that was also being used as a makeshift barracks. The bodies of five men were found shot to death in the basement, a spokesman said, with their hands tied behind their backs. Some had been tortured.
Graphic images taken by Ukrainian prosecutors show the bodies of the men lying on a rubble floor surrounded by pools of dried blood. At least one appears to have been shot through the kneecap.
Visiting the region on Monday, a shattered President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced what he called ‘genocide’ by Russian forces, adding that ‘we know of thousands of people killed and tortured, with severed limbs, raped women and murdered children … dead people have been found in barrels, basements, strangled, tortured.’
The Kremlin has denied any civilian killings, claiming the images emerging from Bucha are fakes produced by Ukrainian forces, or that the deaths occurred after Russian soldiers pulled out.
At a UN Security Council meeting yesterday, Moscow’s ambassador rejected Zelensky’s claims, saying the ‘ungrounded accusations… are not confirmed by any eyewitnesses’.
But satellite photos taken while Bucha was still under Moscow’s control show what appear to be bodies lying in streets where the dead were later found by Ukrainian forces and seen by journalists.
And multiple Bucha residents told AFP they had seen Russian soldiers killing civilians.
‘Right in front of my eyes, they fired on a man who was going to get food at the supermarket,’ said 43-year-old Olena, who declined to give her family name.
During a grim cleanup, the remains of partially burned bodies in black bags were lifted into a van, with officials telling journalists ‘dozens of bodies’ remained in apartments and in nearby woods.
Western nations have given short shrift to Russia’s denials.
‘What we’ve seen in Bucha is not the random act of a rogue unit. It’s a deliberate campaign to kill, to torture, to rape, to commit atrocities,’ US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who will visit Kyiv this week, has offered the bloc’s assistance in documenting proof of war crimes.
Tanya Nedashkivs’ka, 57, weeps in the street over the death of her husband who was found killed as Ukrainian forces liberated the city of Bucha, to the west of Kyiv, after a month under the occupation of Russian troops
A neighbor comforts Natalya, whose husband and nephew were killed by Russian forces, as she cries in her garden in Bucha
Bucha first came under attack by Russian forces trying to push into Kyiv in the early days of the war, and was the scene of fierce fighting that left streets filled with the charred husks of dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles – as well as the bodies of their crew.
The city was fully under Russian control by early March and endured occupation by Putin’s men until last week when troops began withdrawing, having failed in their aim to assault the Ukrainian capital. Over the weekend, Kyiv’s men moved in to reclaim the region. It was during this time that the stories began to emerge.
Sergei Malyk told The Independent how Russian troops shot his 89-year-old neighbour, Alla Minorava, in her bed on March 25. ‘They did not say why they had shot her,’ he recalled. It is difficult to think of a reason… A lot of the killings here make no sense, they killed other old people like her, and young boys and girls.’
Taras Shevchenko, a kindergarten martial arts teacher, recounted another such killed to The Guardian. He said an elderly couple – husband and wife – had been stopped by Russian troops while crossing the road. When the old man gave an ‘aggressive’ answer to one of their questions, he was shot dead.
‘To the woman they said: ‘You just keep walking.’ She rushed to her husband and started crying, and they said: ‘If you want to lie next to him, we can shoot you too.’ She told them she needed to take the body, but they said: ‘No, just keep walking.’ And she kept on walking, crying and walking.’
Shevchenko said those who remained in the city were forbidden from going to collect the bodies for burial, and so had to endure the sight and smell of them decomposing for weeks on end.
Dimitrou Zamohylny recalled seeing flocks of crows pecking out the eyes of the corpses. Sergei Simolenskiy, a veteran of the Russian marines who now lives in Ukraine, told how he witnessed a stray dog eating a dead man’s head. Others told how bodies had been run over by Russian tanks and squashed ‘like animal rugs’.
Bucha, a formerly leafy suburb of Kyiv that was popular with families, became a frontline of the war with Russia as Ukrainian forces stalled Putin’s men here as they tried to reach the capital – before forcing them to turn back
A satellite image taken of a street in the city of Bucha on March 19 – when Russian forces were in full control of the city – shows dark objects in the road that exactly match where civilian corpses were later discovered by Ukrainian troops
One of Bucha’s main streets is now littered with the wrecks of Russian armoured vehicles and tanks after Ukrainian artillery hit them as they were driving through on the road to Kyiv – leaving dozens dead
Kateryna Ukraintseva, a city councillor and Ukraine defence force volunteer, relayed stories she had been told of Russian cruelty. In one case, she told The Telegraph, troops had found people hiding in a basement. They shared dried food with them, but then threw in a grenade. She could not say how many people died in that attack.
While the horrors of Bucha have shocked and appalled many in the West, there are now warnings from Ukraine that worse is to come. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova has warned that the ‘worst’ of the human casualties are actually located in Borodyanka, a town located some 15 miles further from Kyiv than Bucha.
A ‘similar humanitarian situation’ to Bucha also exists in the cities of Chernihiv and Sumy, which were surrounded and cut off by Russian forces early in the war – which have now retreated. She did not go into details about exactly what had happened there.
Dymtryo Kuleba, the foreign secretary, has also warned that the situation in the southern city of Mariupol – which has been almost totally destroyed by Russian forces which are still fighting street-to-street in an attempt to seize it – is likely to be worse still, with an estimated 5,000 civilian casualties.
In villages north of Mykolaiv, a southern Ukrainian city around 250 miles to the west of Mariupol, villagers tell stories of similar horrors to those inflicted on the people of Bucha. Tatiana Bozhiko explained to the Washington Post how her husband, Serhii, was taken prisoner by the Russians – ostensibly for supporting the Azov Battalion which is defending Mariupol – but in reality, it was likely for his outspoken pro-Ukrainian views.
She saw him just once after he was taken, when he was covered in bruises and had his arm in a sling after being shot in the elbow by his captors. After Russian forces were driven out of Mykolaiv, Serhii’s body was found buried in a shallow grave – spotted by locals who saw one of his broken arms protruding from the soil.
The corpse was so badly mangled that the local doctor would not let Tatiana see it. Her son, Volodya, reviewed images of it and said it was riddled with bullets and had multiple broken limbs having likely been tortured before he was killed.
In Trostyanets, a town near the city of Sumy in northern Ukraine, similar terrors were related. Olena Volkova, head doctor at a local hospital, showed the New York Times the body of one man who was tortured to death. ‘His hands and legs are tied up with sticky tape, his teeth are missing and almost all of his face is gone,’ she said.
Others told the newspaper of children who had been held at knifepoint, of rapes and forced abductions, of an old man found toothless and beaten in a ditch, having been defecated on. Police say they have so-far received 15 reports of missing people who they cannot track down.
A Ukrainian woman weeps as she looks down at a mass grave dug by Russian occupation forces behind a large church in central Bucha. At least 57 bodies have been found buried there
Plastic body bags are seen inside a mass grave dug by Russian forces in central Bucha, where it is feared hundreds of civilians could be buried
A satellite image taken on March 31 – while Russian troops were still in control of Bucha – shows the grave site already in use. Analysts say there is evidence the grave was being prepared dating back to March 10
Nova Basan, to the east of Kyiv, was another town to suffer under the heel of Russia’s military boot. Mykola Dyachenko, an official responsible for town administration, said he was among 20 men held prisoner by Russian troops for 25 days before they withdrew.
During that time, he was questioned relentlessly about the locations of Ukrainian territorial defence force bases and ammo dumps in the area. He claimed to have been put through 15 ‘mock executions’ in an attempt to terrify him into giving up information, including being blindfolded while a rifle was shot over his head.
Two others described being beaten with rifle butts, punched and kicked. A third said he was suspended by his arms for long periods. Oleksiy Bryzgalin, 38, a construction worker, said he was strapped to a chair with a grenade placed between his legs for 30 hours.
All of the men said they were fed just two potatoes a day and allowed a single toilet break. They were constantly moved to avoid detection and were forced to sleep in cramped conditions. They escaped their captors a week ago as Russian troops began withdrawing, with Mr Bryzgalin saying he still suffers leg pains as a result of his treatment.
Ukraine’s allies have called the killings in Bucha war crimes, with the EU offering to send investigators to gather evidence.
‘(Russian President Vladimir Putin) is a war criminal,’ US President Biden told reporters at the White House. ‘What’s happening to Bucha is outrageous and everyone’s seen it.’
Images show civilians with bound hands. Pictured: Ira Gavriluk walks next to the corpses of her husband and her brother
Pictured: Bags containing bodies of civilians, who according to residents was killed by Russian soldiers in Bucha, Ukraine
Volunteers unload bags containing bodies of civilians, who according to residents were killed by Russian army soldiers
‘We have to cut all economic relationship to Russia, but at the moment, it’s not possible to cut the gas supplies. We need some time,’ German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said.
Elsewhere, the United States and Britain said they would seek Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council – a move Moscow branded ‘unbelievable’.
The full nature of the killings in Bucha and other areas from which Russian troops have withdrawn is still being pieced together.
On Monday, the bodies of five men were found in a children’s sanatorium basement in Bucha. The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said they were unarmed civilians, who had been bound, beaten and killed by Russian troops.
And in Motyzhyn, west of Kyiv, Ukrainian police showed AFP journalists the bodies of five civilians with their hands tied, including those of the village’s mayor, her husband and son.
Ukrainian officials say over 400 civilian bodies have been recovered from the Kyiv region, many of whom have been laid to rest in mass graves.
But Zelensky has warned that the deaths in Bucha could be only the tip of the iceberg, saying he had information even more people had been killed in places like nearby Borodianka.
AFP reporters who briefly visited the area saw no bodies in the streets, but locals reported many deaths.
‘I know five civilians were killed,’ said 58-year-old Rafik Azimov. ‘But we don’t know how many more are left in the basements of the ruined buildings after the bombardments.’
‘I buried six people,’ another resident, Volodymyr Nahornyi, said. ‘More people are under the ruins.’
Larisa Savenko 72, stands outside her damaged home with Andriy Leshbon in Bucha, Ukraine
The Russian withdrawal from Kyiv has been seen as a pivot to a renewed offensive in the country’s east and south, where Moscow wants to consolidate territory around occupied Crimea and the separatist statelets of Donetsk and Lugansk.
The Ukrainian government has warned Moscow is preparing a ‘full-scale’ attack in the country’s east and regional officials urged civilians to evacuate Lugansk fearing a major Russian attack.
The Pentagon estimates Russia has withdrawn about two thirds of the troops it had around Kyiv and will redeploy them to the east and south, with the White House warning the war’s ‘next phase could be measured in months or longer.’
Even where troops have withdrawn, fears remain, with Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko telling residents to wait before returning, citing the danger of continued shelling and the danger of unexploded munitions.
Europe’s worst conflict in decades, sparked by Russia’s invasion on February 24, has killed as many as 20,000 people, according to Ukrainian estimates.
More than 4.2 million Ukrainians have fled the country and about 6.5 million have been internally displaced, UN agencies say.