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The Lesson Of Bucha: There's Only One Way To Defeat A War Criminal

Western civilization, having experienced so many wars and acts of terrorism, has created elaborate schemes to protect the peace and civilian populations in particular. Vladimir Putin has shown that it is simply not enough. We must fight and die to protect what is most precious, says Ukrainian writer Anna Akage.

Photo of Ukrainian soldiers arriving in Bucha on Sunday

Ukrainian soldiers arrive in Bucha on Sunday

Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/ZUMA
Anna Akage

On Friday, April 1, the body of Ukrainian photographer Maks Levin, who had been missing for three weeks, was found north of Kyiv. He was lying, unarmed, with a camera in front of him and in civilian clothing, just wearing a jacket that read “Press.” Investigators say he was killed at close range by two bullets of small-arms fire from the Russian military.

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Two days later, just 20 kilometers to the south, the town of Bucha, a relatively affluent Kyiv suburb, would become a location destined for wartime infamy as Russian troops abandoned it on a retreat from the region. With the images of mass graves and dead civilians strewn on the street, the news of Levin's death went somewhere in the subconscious.


I had already started to write this article when I heard his body had been found: We were close friends, and had worked together on some of his photographic projects. But after seeing what happened in Bucha, my thoughts began to veer in a different direction, my personal grief turning — if possible — more political. Angrier. More determined.

Shock and infamy

War is terrible, when civilians die it is unbearably painful to watch; when it's someone you know, it's a physical shock to your being. But even with this shock, it is impossible to compare what any mentally healthy person feels when seeing images of Bucha. This is no longer war.

There are corpses on the streets, many with hands tied behind their backs. There are physical signs and witness testimonies that some were tortured before they were shot. Houses are smashed and looted.

There are already videos online of Russian soldiers sending back home objects looted in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities. They fill out forms without hiding their faces, without hiding their names, and send parcels through the Belarusian post office. These parcels contain equipment, personal belongings, and anything else they could carry. Even carpets and refrigerators were taken out on tanks, fleeing from destroyed, bloodied Ukrainian cities.

This is not the only thing going on in the territories occupied by the Russian military. Mass rapes of women and girls. Hundreds of people have been taken by force to Russia, the number of missing people cannot be counted, and their fate is unknown. What is this if it is not war?

Rules of war

Talking about the rules of war sounds like talking about the rules of rape. And yet such a phrase — “the rules of war” — was officially enshrined in the Geneva Convention in 1949, soon to be ratified by every country in the world. Yes, even in war, there are actions that are worse than war itself.

According to the rules, the following acts are forbidden: killing civilians, looting, occupation and destruction of critical infrastructure, dressing up the military in civilian uniforms, using the signs of the enemy, killing journalists, doctors, rescuers, firemen, attacking ambulances and hospitals. All wounded, sick and in need of help must receive it and must not be subjected to violence, kidnapping, or interrogation.

In a recent video, Russian journalist Yulia Latynina argues that the atrocities in Ukraine are, by now, the only type of warfare that the "great" Russian army is capable of. Moscow, she said, thought it “would instantly bring Ukraine to its knees. And when none of its plans worked out, it remains for your army to fight the only way they can and demolish cities together with civilian population simply because they cannot do it any other way."

After the footage from Bucha, the international community reacts in unified horror. Yes, these are war crimes, in violation of so many articles of that Geneva Convention, on top of others in Mariupol and beyond. Putin’s armies, as my president says, are indeed guilty of carrying out genocide.

Reflections on Putin

Photo of a mud puddle and reflections of two men

Reflections of Ukrainian soldiers in remains of Bucha

Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Ending the tyranny

And so what happens now?

The West promises new sanctions. Sure, bring the new sanctions. Will that stop the war criminals? Just like the last sanctions — no way. We hear calls for war crimes trials: of course. But when? and how?

Others will see the horror and beg Ukraine to sign a peace deal with the Russian president, like we did in 2014, when he annexed Crimea and invaded Donbass. It's tempting ... Anything to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible.

Our advanced Western civilization, which has experienced so many wars and acts of terrorism over the last century, has created such elaborate schemes to protect the peace and civilian populations in particular: military alliances, mutual non-aggression memorandums, a global economy, a whole host of non-governmental humanitarian organizations, and, yes, the Geneva Convention itself.

This war has shown that all of this — absolutely all of it — is not enough.

When it comes to a tyrant like Vladimir Putin, any implicit softness, liberalism, and, in fact, inaction, plays into his hands.

Not by choice, believe me, the Ukrainians have shown there is only one way: To end the tyranny, to halt the killing of innocents, to put an end to the war crimes and punish the war criminals … requires war. And we shall win it.

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In The News

War In Ukraine, Day 286: Third Drone Attack Inside Russia — Are We Entering New Phase Of War?

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War In Ukraine, Day 286: Third Drone Attack Inside Russia — Are We Entering New Phase Of War?

Drone attack in Kursk, Russia

Anna Akage, Bertrand Hauger, and Emma Albright

A drone strike at an airfield in Kursk, Russia on Tuesday appears to confirm a significant escalation of Ukraine’s war effort following two similar attacks the previous day deep inside Russian territory.

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"As a result of a drone attack, an oil tanker caught fire near Kursk airfield," Kursk Gov. Roman Starovoit said on Telegram early Tuesday. "There were no casualties. The fire is being localized."

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