- Russian forces occupied the town of Bucha for 33 days
- Mass graves were found after Ukraine regained control
- Ukraine accuses Russian forces of committing atrocities
- Russia denies these allegations
PUSHA, Ukraine (March 31) (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that Ukraine will never forgive Russian forces responsible for the atrocities in Pocha, as the town near Kiev commemorates its recapture after 33 days of occupation. .
Ukrainian forces recaptured the small towns of Bucha and Irbin, northwest of Kiev, in late March last year as Russian invading forces abandoned their attempt to take the capital.
Moscow denies accusations of executions, rape and torture at the hands of its occupying soldiers, who left corpses in the streets when they fled.
“Russian evil will collapse here in Ukraine and will not be able to rise again. Humanity will triumph,” Zelensky said at a Ukrainian flag ceremony in Bucha.
The president distributed medals to the soldiers involved in retaking the city, and relatives received medals on behalf of the fallen soldiers after their deaths.
“When Bucca was separated from the occupation, we saw that Satan was not somewhere there but on Earth. The ugly truth about what was happening in the temporarily occupied lands was revealed to the world,” Zelensky said.
Images of corpses lying in the streets have been broadcast around the world after Ukraine regained control. Kiev says that more than 1,400 people were killed in Bucha during the occupation, including 37 children, and 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, Buca and elsewhere. Zelensky described Bucha as a “symbol of atrocities” committed by the Russian occupation forces.
“We will never forget the victims of this war, and we will certainly bring all Russian murderers to justice,” Zelensky wrote on social media. “We will never forgive. We will punish every perpetrator.”
Bucha has become a stopover for international visitors to Ukraine. The President of Moldova and the prime ministers of Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia also attended Friday’s ceremony.
Joining Zelensky in seeking EU membership for her country, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said, “We honor and grieve the innocent. Democracies must work together to ensure that these atrocities are investigated and punished.”
Fighting has raged in eastern and southern Ukraine, where Russian forces control swathes of territory they captured after their February 24, 2022 invasion.
Russia launches a winter offensive to make small advances in the east at great cost of life. Ukrainian forces intervened and are holding out for the time being in the city of Bakhmut, and are expected to launch a counterattack soon.
Tensions rose between Russia and the West over the war. Relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated further Thursday when Russia arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Ivan Gershkovich on espionage charges, which the newspaper denied and the White House called “ridiculous”.
For places like Bucha hundreds of miles from the front line, the war is still felt, with regular sirens telling residents to take cover from missile strikes and drone strikes that have caused major blackouts.
Bucha residents speak of the deep psychological wounds left by the occupation and say it will take generations to overcome. Some buildings remain in ruins in the town, and a junkyard is littered with cars and military vehicles destroyed during last year’s fighting.
We must understand that it is easy to rebuild walls, but it is difficult to rebuild a wounded soul,” said Andrei Holovin, a priest in an Orthodox Ukrainian diocese.
Prosecutor Andrei Kostin said his office had identified nearly 100 Russian soldiers suspected of war crimes in Bucha and indictments against 35 of them had been referred to court.
Among them, he said, is a three-star general who commands Russia’s Central Military District. He added that two Russian servicemen captured in Ukraine were imprisoned for illegally imprisoning civilians and looting.
The vast majority of Russian suspects are not in Ukrainian custody, but Kiev says it hopes they will be put on trial one day.
“I am convinced that all these crimes are not accidental. 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 Honder and Dan Belichuk, Writing by Tom Palmforth, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Peter Graf
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