Burned corpses and claims of a ‘torture chamber’: Here’s what we know about alleged war crimes in Bucha, Ukraine

Warning: This story contains graphic content, including photos, that may be upsetting to some readers.

A lifeless body lying next to a bicycle. A “torture chamber” in a children’s sanatorium. The blackened foot of a child peeking out from a pile of dead bodies.

The extreme suffering of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine has come to symbolize the senseless brutality of Russia’s war on Ukraine, now in its sixth week.

Since Russian troops withdrew from Bucha last week after more than a month occupying the city, new glimpses into the horror that took place there come every day — some of the most graphic depictions thus far of what Russia seems capable of in this war, fuelling international calls for justice.

Visiting Bucha on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said of the killing of hundreds of civilians there, “these are war crimes and will be recognized by the world as genocide.”

Russia continues to deny responsibility for violence against civilians in Bucha.

Here’s what we know about what happened in Bucha.

What is Bucha and why is it so significant?

Bucha is a small city of more than 30,000 people, about 30 kilometres northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. Up until recently, it was occupied by Russian forces.

Russia retreated from Bucha on March 30 as part of the Kremlin’s pledge in peace talks to scale back from areas surrounding the Ukrainian capital.

In the days that followed, Ukrainian officials and journalists have worked to uncover what happened there, with stories quickly emerging about mass civilian murder, rape and torture.

The carnage in Bucha — the details of which are some of the most heartbreaking and egregious that has been seen from this war yet — has sparked widespread condemnation and allegation of war crimes and even genocide.

What do we know about what happened there?

Associated Press journalists this week reported seeing dozens of dead bodies around Bucha, where abandoned, battered Russian tanks line the streets.

Six burned and blackened corpses, including a child, lying next to a colourful, abandoned playground off a residential street, and civilians shot in the head with their hands tied behind their backs are just some of the harrowing scenes from Bucha that have sent shock waves around the world.

Addressing the UN Security Council Tuesday, Zelenskyy said at least 300 people were “killed and tortured” by Russian forces in Bucha, where he said Russian forces “killed whole families” and “tried to burn their bodies.”

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova wrote Monday on Twitter that police had discovered a “torture chamber” in a children’s sanatorium in Bucha. Her message was accompanied by a photograph of four small, unidentified bodies.

Serhii Kaplychnyi, head of rescue services in Bucha, told the AFP 57 people were buried in a mass grave behind a church in the town’s centre.

Charred bodies of five people, lie on the ground in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, April 4, 2022.

In many cases, it is unclear exactly when, or under what conditions, people were killed. Despite Russian attempts to cast doubt, though, reports show some of the bodies have been there for weeks.

In a Telegram post Sunday, the Russian Defence Ministry said “not a single local resident” suffered during Russia’s occupation of Bucha, suggesting that the bodies had been put there after its troops withdrew from the area on March 30.

But an analysis of satellite images by the New York Times shows many of the civilians were killed more than three weeks ago. At least 11 of the bodies shown in a video filmed by a local council member on April 1 had been on the street since March 11. Another body lying next to an abandoned car captured on video had been there since around March 20, the Times found.

The Russian Defence Ministry also pointed to a video of Bucha Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk celebrating the town’s liberation on March 31, where he made no reference to civilian casualties.

But according to a news release, it was only on April 2 that Ukraine’s police force began clearing the streets of unexploded mines and ammunition.

In another video from early March verified by the Times, a cyclist dismounts and walks a bicycle around the corner to a street filled with Russian troops who then proceed to shoot. A video from weeks later shows a body in matching civilian clothes in the same location lying next to a bike.

Washington Post journalists in Bucha, embedded with a team from the Ukrainian district prosecutor’s office Wednesday, described seeing evidence of torture, including dismembered and beheaded bodies.

Claims of Russian troops sexually assaulting residents have also emerged but have yet to be verified. A senior Ukrainian official told the BBC that 25 women and girls have said they were raped by Russian forces in Bucha.

What has Canada’s response been so far?

Ukrainian soldiers stand next to a mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, April 4, 2022.

Images from Bucha have resonated around the globe, pushing world leaders to impose further sanctions on Russia and call for President Vladimir Putin to be charged with war crimes.

On Monday, Canada’s House of Commons voted unanimously to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Entering the Commons on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the images emerging from Bucha in Ukraine are “absolutely horrific.”

“Russia must be held accountable for each rape, each murder in Bucha,” Trudeau said, adding that Russia should be suspended from the UN Human Rights Council.

Beginning this week, the RCMP is launching a national investigation into allegations of war crimes in Ukraine. Canada will also be sending 10 “highly trained investigators” to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to help gather evidence.

Canada will soon sanction 18 more Russian and Belarusian individuals, but has stopped short of following the lead of countries such as Germany, France, Latvia and Lithuania, which have expelled Russian diplomats.

“If we exclude Russian diplomats — which we are considering, like other countries and our allies are doing — we know that will probably mean we lose diplomats in Moscow,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

With files from Allan Woods, Tonda MacCharles, and Stephanie Levitz

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