Russian forces have killed civilians across Ukraine, sparking global outrage, and accusations that Russia is committing war crimes — even genocide. The barbarity is evident in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, that was liberated three weeks ago. Now, a grim accounting is beginning.
As a nonprofit journalism organization, we depend on your support to fund coverage of global conflicts. Help us continue funding the hard costs of in-depth coverage of the Ukraine invasion—including travel, hostile environment safety training, and the increased security expenses that arise from reporting in war zones.
Read the Full Transcript
Amna Nawaz: Returning to our lead story tonight, Russian forces have killed civilians across Ukraine, sparking global outrage and accusations that Russia is committing war crimes, even genocide.
The barbarity is evident in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, which was liberated three weeks ago, and now a grim accounting is beginning.
Special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky and videographer Yegor Troyanovsky returned to Bucha to investigate.
And just a warning: Some images in this report are disturbing.
Simon Ostrovsky: The cemetery in Bucha. Bodies are brought here one after the other, some dug out of a mass grave to be buried a second time, others collected from the street, found where they lay, after Russian forces retreated from this area at the end of March.
So far, 358 bodies, mostly civilian, have been recovered in the small suburb of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, which has become synonymous with Russia's brutal campaign to subjugate Ukraine by any means necessary.
Olha Kosyanchuk, Widow (through translator): Damn the occupants. May every single one of them die. May their disgusting country cease to exist. Animals!
Simon Ostrovsky: Olha Kosyanchuk is laying her husband, Anatoly, to rest.
Olha Kosyanchuk (through translator): He had only one day left until this 57th birthday and the liberation of Bucha.
Simon Ostrovsky: The last time she saw him, he had dug some potatoes out of his garden to take them to a distribution point to be shared with his neighbors, a final act of kindness that would result in his brutal murder.
Olha Kosyanchuk (through translator): They questioned him about something. Then they led him away to an unknown location. No one saw him after that. They smashed his head with a heavy blunt object.
Simon Ostrovsky: Just about a mile away, next to a yet-unfinished cathedral, Ukrainian investigators continue to painstakingly exhume the mass burial site that was created by locals, who did what they could to collect bodies from the streets while the Russians were still here.
Each one is bagged before being taken to a morgue for identification and establishment of cause of death. Close to 120 were temporarily interred here.
Bucha's mayor has said one in five citizens who remained in the city died during the Russian occupation of the town.
Ruslan Kravchenko is Bucha's chief prosecutor. He told "NewsHour," investigators here want to establish the names of specific soldiers who were behind the killings and to find out who gave the orders to target civilians.
Ruslan Kravchenko, Head of Bucha Prosecution Team (through translator): The evidence shows that people were simply shot for being local residents and Ukrainians. The Russian military did not care whether they spoke in Russian or Ukrainian.
Russian troops and an armored personnel carrier shot up a vehicle with a mother and two children, 4- and 11-year-olds, while they were trying to escape. The car caught on fire. And the mother and two children were burned. The evidence we have collected so far confirms war crimes. And we are gathering evidence that points to genocide. But, for the moment, I can say confidently that the Russian troops specifically located in Bucha were simply killing local residents.
Simon Ostrovsky: Proving genocide won't be easy.
Wayne Jordash is a British lawyer who's consulting Ukraine's prosecutor's office in an effort to bring a case against Russia to an international criminal proceeding.
Wayne Jordash, Global Rights Compliance: as Far as I'm aware, what they want to achieve is to make sure that the links, if they exist, are drawn right up to the top leadership and political leadership of Russia, i.e., Putin, ultimately.
And so what's needed is to investigate what's happening on the ground, but also then to show the links upwards the command chain.
Simon Ostrovsky: That's because genocide, which is often thought of as a crime of mass killing, is actually defined by proving the intent to destroy in whole or in part a group, such as a nation or an ethnicity.
Wayne Jordash: I have seen massive attacks on civilian infrastructure, which, according to witnesses, is also matched by massive attacks on civilians themselves. That's the first obvious pattern.
And much of that, from what I have seen, does not seem to be connected to military targets. I have seen basements which appear to show signs of people being detained there and tortured there. I have seen mass graves which seem to suggest that scores, if not hundreds of civilians have been killed and buried, again, without any obvious military connection.
I mean, these speak to me, obviously, as patterns which you ordinarily would see in crimes against humanity. And I think, in Bucha, what we see perhaps is even a movement from crimes against humanity to potentially genocide.
Man (through translator): A car drove by. Did you see it? A car, one armored vehicle and two people out of the brush, civilian.
Simon Ostrovsky: Unverified radio intercepts of Russian troops communications released by Ukraine's security service could be an early indicator that orders were given to target civilians.
Man (through translator): (EXPLETIVE DELETED) waste to them all for (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sake.
Man (through translator): Copy. This whole village is full of civilians.
Man (through translator): If there are civilians (EXPLETIVE DELETED) waste to them all. Did you get that?
Man (through translator): Yes. Copy.
Ruslan Kravchenko (through translator): Right now, the security service of Ukraine, military intelligence of the Defense Ministry and other operational divisions of various law enforcement agencies are working to collect evidence, telephone communications, conducting signals intelligence, confirming everything, all the tapped calls, as well as using other investigative methods to find evidence of the orders that were given.
Simon Ostrovsky: And what kind of things are they saying?
Ruslan Kravchenko (through translator): Regarding the killing of civilians: Everyone shoot everything. Kill everyone you see.
Many of the shot-up cars have signs that say children on them. This did not seem to stop the Russian soldiers.
Simon Ostrovsky: Investigators have also started to piece together a picture of which Russian units were operating in the area during the occupation.
According to Kravchenko, they are the 64th Motorized Rifles from Khabarovsk in Russia's far east, the 155th Marines Brigade from the Russian Pacific Fleet, and a yet unidentified unit of Russia's National Guard.
Aside from the widespread and seemingly random killings of civilians in Bucha, "NewsHour" has also witnessed evidence of the targeting of men of military age for questioning and execution by Russian forces. On April 3, our team was present as volunteers bagged the bodies of a group of eight men at an apparent kill site behind an office building.
We'd come back here because we were quite rushed when we arrived on the first day. And we want to see if there are any clues as to who the Russians were who were using this building as their base to see if we can try to link them to these killings.
Two of the bodies had their hands tied behind their backs, indicating they were restrained prior to their deaths. All of the men were shot directly in the head or chest, suggesting execution. Other journalists discovered similar sites in other parts of the city.
We spoke with Sergey, a resident who lives in a house across the street. He didn't want us to use his last name.
Sergey, Bucha Resident (through translator): I saw two bodies, one on the sidewalk here and another on Gagarin Street around the corner.
Simon Ostrovsky: He told us Russian soldiers rounded up over 100 residents from around the neighborhood and forced them to stand for hours in front of the building, before ordering them into a bomb shelter below. Some were separated from the main group.
Sergey (through translator):There were three people dressed down to their pants in front of the front door closer to the road. Their torsos were bare, and they were on their knees. This one at the end had a serious hematoma in the area of his heart.
I was told they were shot to death on March 6.
Simon Ostrovsky: It seems only a matter of time before suspects in the war crimes investigation of Bucha are named. But whether justice is ultimately served to the hundreds of victims and their families will depend on the course of the war in Ukraine, which is far from over.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Simon Ostrovsky in Bucha.
Amna Nawaz: And the "NewsHour"s coverage of the war in Ukraine is supported in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.