Terrible images from Ukraine spark renewed calls for war crimes investigations

LONDON – Demands to hold Russia accountable for alleged war crimes in Ukraine have intensified as horrific images emerged from towns on the outskirts of Kyiv over the weekend after Russian forces withdrew.

Ukrainian officials and journalists shared photos and videos of what they said, showing dozens of bodies in civilian clothes strewn on the streets of the city of Bucha, northwest of the capital Kyiv, as well as in nearby towns.

“We’re still collecting and looking for bodies, but the number is already in the hundreds. There are dead bodies on the streets,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview on Sunday.

Mass graves “filled with civilians” were found in the cities of Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, said Sergei Nikiforov, a spokesman for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the BBC On Sunday. Bodies were found with their hands and legs tied and bullet holes in the back of their heads, he said.

Municipal workers carry body bags to a van after the Russian shelling of the city of Bucha in Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, April 3, 2022.
Workers carry bodies to a van in Bucha, Ukraine, on Sunday.Sergei Supinsky / AFP – Getty Images

Ukrainian officials also found “half-burned bodies,” he added, “as if someone tried to cover up their crimes, but they didn’t have enough time to do it properly.”

NBC News was unable to confirm the war crimes allegations or independently verify the photos or videos.

Satellite images from Colorado-based Maxar Technologies, a US government intelligence firm, released late Sunday showed what appeared to be a mass grave with a 45-foot ditch at a local church in Bucha, while reporters for the AFP and the BBC have too reported To see corpses in the streets of the city.

Zelenskyy accused Russian forces of killing civilians “knowingly and with pleasure” and asked “every mother of every Russian soldier” to see the bodies lying in towns near Kyiv.

“What did the Ukrainian city of Bucha do to your Russia? How did all this become possible?” he said in a speech published on Telegram late Sunday.

Ukrainian officials have compared the scenes in Bucha and nearby towns to historical atrocities committed during World War II and in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Image: A dog lies next to the body of a civilian in Bucha who local residents say was killed by Russian soldiers
A dog sits next to the body of a civilian in Bucha on Sunday. Reuters

Moscow has categorically denied all allegations, calling photos and videos of Bucha a “provocation” by the Ukrainian authorities. On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called them “staged,” and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said information about the killings of civilians in Bucha “must be seriously challenged.” Russian officials have consistently denied attacking civilians since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Human Rights Watch also said Sunday that its own investigators documented “enacted mass executions” and “other serious abuses” in several Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine, including around Kyiv.

Ukraine, the United States and their allies have accused Russia of war crimes in recent weeks, but recent reports have deepened the condemnation and called for investigations.

President Joe Biden said Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “a war criminal” and called for “a war crimes trial,” before adding that he was considering further sanctions against Russia over its attacks on Ukraine.

“The images that are reaching us from Bucha, a liberated city near Kyiv, are unbearable,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in a tweet on Sunday. “The Russian authorities will have to answer for these crimes.”

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen required an independent inquiry on Sunday saying “the perpetrators of war crimes will be held accountable” while United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called Monday that the emerging reports “raise serious and troubling questions about possible war crimes.”

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken described corpse scenes on the streets of Bucha as a “punch in the stomach”. on CNN on Sunday, adding that “there has to be accountability”. The State Department had already rated in a report released last month that Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine and said they had an obligation “to hold accountable.”

International calls for investigations into war crimes coincide with Ukraine’s own efforts to collect evidence on its own territory.

Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova said in a post on Facebook on Sunday that dozens of investigators were examining evidence in Bucha alone, while others were examining hundreds of bodies found in the Kyiv region. Her office also investigated Russian actions in other areas of Ukraine.

Zelenskyi said late Sunday he would create “a special judicial mechanism” involving both Ukrainian and international experts, but gave no further details on how this would differ from the work of Venediktova’s office.

During a visit to Bucha on Monday, he said Ukraine will push for swift justice.

“We will publicly pressure as much as possible, we will not take breaks to find all the criminals,” he said.


According to Andrew Clapham, a professor of international law and author of War, who is also an adviser to Ukraine, the graphic images and reports emerging from Bucha could push prosecutors outside Ukraine to allocate resources to prosecute anyone who eventually charged with war crimes Ukrainian government.

“There will be prosecutors around the world who will be able to arrest people who come through their jurisdiction and who will feel clearer about the moral dimension of that,” he said.

However, prosecution in international courts could still be years away, especially as the war rages on, experts say. War crimes are not subject to a statute of limitations.

“People are still being prosecuted for events in World War II,” Clapham said. “These are crimes that stay in your memory forever.” Terrible images from Ukraine spark renewed calls for war crimes investigations

Caroline Bleakley

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