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Bucha Happened: Testimony Of A Siege, Witnesses To A Massacre

Adding evidence of war crimes against civilians emerging in Bucha, an Italian reporter gathers new details and chilling first-hand testimony of the past three weeks of Russian occupation and murder of innocent civilians.

Picture of a buried corpse in Bucha

Dozens of corpses of Ukrainians are buried in a mass grave behind a church in Bucha

Francesca Mannocchi

BUCHA — I entered the town with Masha. She is 25 years old, and lived in Bucha for 13 of those years. Monday morning, with her boyfriend Sergei, she filled her car with food, water and cigarettes and joined the military convoy bringing food and other aid into the city. I went along with them.

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Masha offers few words as we approach the town: she doesn't comment on the destruction, doesn't express anger. Instead, she points as we pass: That was my school. That was my kindergarten. My father used to work there.

These days, her father has become a soldier. He is the first person she wants to find, she has not seen him for four weeks, and he was on duty northeast of here, around the city of Chernihiv. When they walk towards each other, he takes off his helmet. They hug, and hold on to each other as I keep my distance.

Signs that read: civilians, children

They have not yet mourned their family's victim of this war: Masha's grandfather, killed in cold blood by Russian soldiers. He had come out of the house with a white band on his arm, a white sheet tightened to the waistband of his pants, to look for something to eat. He was shot just like that, just outside his home.

Her grandmother did not want to leave Bucha. They had moved to a new house in December, the walls still smelling of fresh paint when the war began. And she stayed there.

Words that beg, have mercy.

The road leading to their house is still unpaved, a hundred yards ahead is their neighbors' black car. They were trying to escape by car early one morning — father, mother and two children. They too were killed in this way, just outside their home, with no mercy for the word "children" written on their car.

Every house in Bucha has a white sign at the entrance. A rag, or a sheet of paper in children's handwriting. The letters read: civilians, children. Words that beg, have mercy. But pity, here, had vanished during weeks of fighting, until the Russian troops were pushed back by Ukrainian forces.

And as they retreated they left behind them wrecked tanks and armored cars and the corpses of summary executions — war crimes that are emerging one by one, house by house, street by street.

Photo of a woman receiving supplies in the streets of Bucha

Residents receive food aid amid wreckage of war

Carol Guzy/ZUMA

Staying to help

Masha's grandmother leads me to the larger window overlooking the garden. Her neighbor tried to get out of the house across the street to see if there were soldiers manning the area, grab his elderly mother and leave. He was shot in the side and lay on the ground in the doorway of his house until the city was liberated. The woman, today, lives with Masha's grandmother. She is sitting on the couch, long white hair beyond her shoulders. She nods, adds no details, neither speaks nor cries.

Masha, who has made it her mission to bring aid from Kyiv to Bucha on her daily trips, doesn't cry either. She stays here, even though her mother and her two younger sisters have escaped to France.

She drives to the collection point. The military vehicle opening the convoy is distributing water and fuel. Dozens of people wait. Each has a story, which are painfully similar.

This is how it worked with the Russians.

I ask them about the dead bodies along the road, from the images that have circulated worldwide. Nelya, in her seventies, says that the road is nothing. That you have to look for the dead in the houses, in the cellars, in the woods. That this is how it worked, with the Russians, in the weeks that seemed like years to her. They would enter the buildings, ask everyone to hand over their phones, destroy the SIM cards, then separate the women and children from the men. The women and children were forced into cellars and shelters and the men into the houses. If it went well they were used as human shields, if it went badly they were executed. Eight men were shot in her building, Nelya saw their bodies when she finally got out of the shelter.

Russian soldiers said, "we are here to free you"

This is how people died in Bucha. A practice of the occupation, not just the extreme retaliation that precedes the retreat. Shot in the back of the head while trying to leave the house to get a pot left on the grill the day before. Because in Bucha, as in all occupied areas, people lived like this for weeks, gathering pieces of wood and light a fire on their doorstep to heat some water and try to cook a soup — the food of wartime.

This is how people still live today.

It's the second leg of Masha's round of aid. A basement full of water tanks that have been arriving with military convoys for a few days, blankets, winter clothes. At the entrance, two wooden planks resting on the cans are used as benches by Anna and Iryna who are cooking tomato soup. Two tires, one on top of the other, protect the fire.

Anna says that during the first days of occupation, Russian troops were knocking on doors on her street, taking men away "to interrogate them," they said. They had established one of their bases in the kindergarten next to her home. Some of the men, mostly the elderly, returned home. Terrified, but released.

"We are here to free you," the Russian soldiers told them, "and you are lucky that we have not killed you yet." The others, those who were not released, their traces were lost.

But in the last days before the Ukrainian counter-offensive, Anna says, the Russians walked along the streets of the residential areas, shooting everyone they saw.

Her friend Sergey died this way. His body was on the ground for days and is now in one of the black bags containing the civilian victims of Bucha. By Monday, officials estimated at least 300 bodies of innocent residents of the town had been identified. But the numbers are bound to increase.

Photo of a Ukrainian soldier walking through the destruction of war

A Ukrainian soldier walks around an area littered with debris and a destroyed Russian tank in Bucha

President Of Ukraine/ZUMA

Human shields, body in a basement

Masha wants to bring the last package in person. It's for Igor, a close friend of her father's. He can't fight because he can't walk; he's had a limp since birth. She leaves him two cans of water, a new phone, a bag of food, cigarettes. He hugs her, the first thing he tells her is that he has washed himself, finally, after a month. He heated the water on the fire he lit outside the house, brought it a little by little inside into the tub, and wiped off the grime of war.

The building in which he lives forms a horseshoe with the two adjacent ones. A Russian armored vehicle was in between the buildings for ten days. The soldiers were watching over them to prevent anyone from leaving. The women were hidden in the basement, the men in the houses. Not a step outside the door, the Russians shouted. Meanwhile, outside the battle was raging, broken glass everywhere. Igor could not get out, could not call for help. He could only hope that the artillery didn't hit his house. He was a hostage of war. He was a human shield.

On the road out of town, the one that leads from Bucha through the woods to Irpin and from there to Kyiv, a man waves our car down. He is clenched over in a brown jacket, his body well worn-out, and face emaciated. "He is there," he says. We follow him to his neighbor's house. "He's down there, go down," he says.

She's stopped pointing at the places from her childhood.

He doesn't go ahead of me, he doesn't follow me. Neither does Masha. I go into the cellar alone, I use the phone as a flashlight. Lying on the ground is the body of a young man. He is not even 20 years old. He's wearing civilian clothes. A trickle of blood comes out of his mouth. He was killed by a blow to the head.

Masha starts driving again, still not talking. She's also stopped pointing at the places from her childhood. After half a kilometer, around a bend, the charred bodies of three adults and a child. A man comes out of a house not far from there. "My neighbors, they were trying to escape. The Russians killed them and then set the bodies on fire." He offers details of a massacre of innocents, makes the sign of the cross and goes back into his house.

Masha has finished translating, looks away, gets back into the driver's seat and opens the window. Bucha now only smells of death. It is the last thing she says before heading back to Kyiv.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

A Profound And Simple Reason That Negotiations Are Not An Option For Ukraine

The escalation of war in the Middle East and the stagnation of the Ukrainian counteroffensive have left many leaders in the West, who once supported Ukraine unequivocally, to look toward ceasefire talks with Russia. For Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Piotr Andrusieczko argues that Ukraine simply cannot afford this.

Photo of Ukrainian soldiers in winter gear, marching behind a tank in a snowy landscape

Ukrainian soldiers ploughing through the snow on the frontlines

Volodymyr Zelensky's official Facebook account
Piotr Andrusieczko


KYIVUkraine is fighting for its very existence, and the war will not end soon. What should be done in the face of this reality? How can Kyiv regain its advantage on the front lines?

It's hard to deny that pessimism has been spreading among supporters of the Ukrainian cause, with some even predicting ultimate defeat for Kyiv. It's difficult to agree with this, considering how this war began and what was at stake. Yes, Ukraine has not won yet, but Ukrainians have no choice for now but to continue fighting.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

These assessments are the result of statements by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, and an interview with him in the British weekly The Economist, where the General analyzes the causes of failures on the front, notes the transition of the war to the positional phase, and, critically, evaluates the prospects and possibilities of breaking the deadlock.

Earlier, an article appeared in the American weekly TIME analyzing the challenges facing President Volodymyr Zelensky. His responses indicate that he is disappointed with the attitude of Western partners, and at the same time remains so determined that, somewhat lying to himself, he unequivocally believes in victory.

Combined, these two publications sparked discussions about the future course of the conflict and whether Ukraine can win at all.

Some people outright predict that what has been known from the beginning will happen: Russia will ultimately win, and Ukraine has already failed.

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