- Russian forces occupied the city of Bucha for 33 days
- Mass graves were found after their recovery by Ukraine
- Ukraine accuses Russian troops of committing atrocities
- Russia denies the accusations
BUCHA, Ukraine, March 31 (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday that Ukraine would never forgive Russian troops responsible for atrocities in Bucha, as the city near Kiev marked the anniversary of its recapture after 33 days of occupation. .
Ukrainian forces regained control of the small towns of Bucha and Irpin northwest of kyiv in late March last year when Russian invasion forces abandoned their attempt to seize the capital.
Moscow denies allegations of executions, rapes and torture by its occupying troops who left bodies in the streets as they fled.
“The Russian evil will collapse right here in Ukraine and can never rise again. Humanity will prevail,” Zelenskiy said, leading a ceremony to raise the Ukrainian flag in Bucha.
The president handed out medals to the soldiers who participated in the reconquest of the town, and relatives received medals on behalf of the fallen soldiers who were awarded posthumously.
“When Bucha was vacated, we saw that the devil was not somewhere but on the ground. The appalling truth about what was happening in the temporarily occupied territories was revealed to the world,” Zelenskiy said.
Images of dead bodies lying in the street were broadcast around the world after Ukraine regained control. Kiev says more than 1,400 people died in Bucha during the occupation, including 37 children, more than 175 people were found in mass graves and torture chambers, and 9,000 Russian war crimes were identified.
International investigators are now collecting evidence of war crimes in Irpin, Bucha and other locations. Zelenskiy described Bucha as a “symbol of atrocities” by the occupying Russian forces.
“We will never forget the victims of this war and we will certainly bring all Russian murderers to justice,” Zelenskiy wrote on social media. “We will never forgive. We will punish all perpetrators.”
Bucha has become a stop for international visitors to Ukraine. The President of Moldova and the Prime Ministers of Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia also attended the ceremony on Friday.
“We honor and mourn the innocent. Democracies must work together to ensure that these atrocities are investigated and punished,” said Moldovan President Maia Sandu, who joined Zelenskiy in seeking her country’s membership in the European Union.
Fighting continues in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Russian forces control swaths of territory captured after they invaded on February 24, 2022.
Russia has been conducting a winter offensive to make small gains in the east at enormous cost of lives. Ukrainian forces have entrenched and held out for now in the town of Bakhmut and are expected to launch a counter-offensive soon.
Tensions have risen between Russia and the West over the war. Relations between Washington and Moscow soured further on Thursday when Russia arrested a Wall Street Journal correspondent, Evan Gershkovich, on espionage charges, which the newspaper denied and the White House called “ludicrous.”
In places like Bucha, hundreds of kilometers from the front line, the war is still felt, with regular air-raid sirens telling residents to take cover as missile and drone strikes have caused major cuts. of energy.
Bucha residents speak of the deep psychological scars left behind by the occupation, saying it would take generations to get over it. Some buildings remain vandalized in the city and a junkyard is full of cars and military vehicles destroyed during last year’s fighting.
“We must understand that it is easy to rebuild walls, but it is much more difficult to rebuild a wounded soul,” said Andriy Holovin, a priest at a Ukrainian Orthodox parish.
Attorney General Andriy Kostin said his office had identified nearly 100 Russian soldiers suspected of war crimes in Bucha and indictments against 35 of them had been sent to court.
They include a three-star general who commands Russia’s Central Military District, he said. Two Russian servicemen captured in Ukraine have been jailed for illegally imprisoning civilians and looting, he added.
The vast majority of the Russian suspects are not in Ukrainian custody, but kyiv says it hopes they can one day be prosecuted.
“I am convinced that all these crimes are not a coincidence. This is part of Russia’s planned strategy to destroy Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation,” he said.
Additional reporting by Max Hunder and Dan Peleschuk, writing by Tom Balmforth, editing by Timothy Heritage and Peter Graff
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