Was there really a massacre at Bucha?
Accepting the fake claims of a massacre is as bad as or even worse than denying a real one. Besides the immediate damage caused by the deception, it undermines trust and empathy when a real massacre happens.
The allegations of the Bucha massacre are false.
The Russian military left Bucha, Ukraine on March 30, 2022. On March 31, Bucha mayor Anatoly Fedoruk triumphantly declared Bucha liberated. On April 1, a video shot from a moving car appeared on Twitter, showing 7 (maybe 8) dead bodies on the Yablonska Street in Bucha. By April 3, the number of bodies found on the streets of Bucha had grown to 20, and mass graves were shown. Kyiv claimed that the Russian military had executed between 280 and 410 civilians in Bucha. Russia denied these accusations (RIA FAN in Russian, April 7) and demanded a special session by the U.N. Security Council to refute them. This request was blocked by Britain.
The mass graves are real, but the decision to bury the deceased in a mass grave was made by the local authorities in consultations with clergy after the morgue was overflowing. Deceased people, including those who had died from natural causes and shooting by both sides, were buried there.
Burying the dead in mass graves in Bucha was known since March 10, at least. It was discussed in Russian-speaking forums with videos. Satellite imagery of the dug grave (CNN, April 3) from March 10 matches the description by the local abbot (CNN, April 5):
The local morgue in Bucha ran out of space as deaths mounted in March; to deal with all the bodies, a tractor was brought in to dig a mass grave in the grounds of the Church of St. Andrew. ... There were too many dead people, and there was no way to properly bury them because getting to the cemetery was simply unrealistic because of the shelling.
Bucha was under Russian control at that time, so shelling was likely not by them. Until April 2–3, nobody claimed that victims of executions had been buried there. This practice of temporary burial in mass graves ("братские могилы," literally "brotherly graves") is being reported from other contested areas of Ukraine. It has nothing to do with alleged war crimes.
There is a huge cultural misunderstanding. In the West, mass graves are associated with mass murder. In Russia and Ukraine, they are associated with fighting a war. Even permanent burial in mass or brotherly graves is not unusual in times of war.
Among approximately 20 bodies shown in the photos and videos, some appear to be obviously staged. For example, one body photographed on April 3 had its hands tied behind with a snow-white shred —impossible if the body had lain there for four days. Moreover, all the bodies were shown from angles from which the faces could not be seen.
As of April 7, no names of victims have been released by Ukraine. In an interview with DW.ru, Mayor Fedoruk refused even to tell when the names would be released. No autopsy results were published. The territory is in the hands of the Ukrainian government, and it is supposed to provide evidence of executions, if any.
The most attention went to the seven or so bodies on Yablonska Street. There are claims that they could be identified on satellite photos made as early as March 11. This is hard to believe, given the Russian and Ukrainian tradition to bury dead persons quickly and natural decomposition happening to bodies remaining exposed.
Whether these seven people were killed when the Russian troops were in the town or later, the cause of death cannot be determined from the widely available evidence. These men might have been killed by Ukrainian artillery. Bucha, a small town (50,000 residents pre-war, per Mayor Fedoruk) bordering the slightly bigger town Irpin, was near the frontline for about a month, and Ukrainian artillery fired toward Bucha even after the Russian troops withdrew. The videos show craters next to some of the bodies. There could be air bursts, not leaving craters. Some of them might have died from a stray bullet or an attack by marauders. There is no evidence of a massacre by the Russian troops.
The assertions that the bodies moved immediately after the car moved past them are not correct. Some people on the Russian side say that the men were murdered by the Ukrainian paramilitary organization Azov or other forces after the Russian military withdrew. I did not find any evidence in support of this and thus consider it not true. This claim has been followed by allegations that the same happened in other towns from which the Russian military retreated.
We need to put an end to these lies because:
- they constitute blood libel;
- they increase hatred between Russians and Ukrainians;
- they guide our policy in the wrong direction.
PS: I was born and raised in Kyiv while Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.
Image via Pickpik.