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Story Publication logo April 4, 2022

Russian Withdrawal from Bucha Exposes Atrocities Against Ukrainian Civilians


Ukraine refugees flee to Hungary

The Pulitzer Center is partnering with "PBS NewsHour" to bring viewers the kind of reporting...


Global outrage grew Monday as more horrific revelations surfaced from Bucha, Ukraine outside Kyiv. Hundreds of Ukrainians died there, many clearly executed by Russian troops as they retreated last week. Meantime, the U.S. says Russians are shifting their military focus to eastern Ukraine. Special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky and videographer Yegor Troyanovsky report from Bucha.

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Judy Woodruff: Global outrage group today as more horrific revelations surface from Bucha, Ukraine, a town northwest of Kyiv. Hundreds of Ukrainians died there, many apparently executed by Russian troops as they retreated from the town last week.

President Biden spoke to these latest horrors of war this morning at the White House.

President Joe Biden: You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal. Well, the truth of the matter — you saw what happened in Bucha. This warrants him — he is a war criminal.

But we have to gather the information, we have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight, and we have to get all the detail so this can be an actual — have a war crime trial.

This guy is brutal. And what's happening in Bucha is outrageous, and everyone's seen it.

Judy Woodruff: Meantime, the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said today that the Russians are making a strategic shift to focus their military efforts on Eastern Ukraine and leaving the towns and cities around Kyiv like Bucha.

Special correspondent Simon Ostrovsky and videographer Yegor Troyanovsky traveled to Bucha yesterday to see the horrific aftermath of the Russian occupation.

And a warning: Many images in this report will upset viewers, but we feel it's necessary to show you what the Russian forces apparently did as they retreated from this area.

Simon Ostrovsky: This was once a quiet suburb of the Ukrainian capital. Now the town of Bucha is synonymous with the death and devastation.

On the way in, smashed Russian columns and the body of soldiers bodies of soldiers who were ordered to take Kyiv, but never made it that far. Within Bucha itself, the Russian retreat has exposed the horrors of war for Ukrainian civilians.

Volunteers bag the bodies of a group of men, unceremoniously dumped behind the building, presumably by the Russians who used it as a base and left behind their waste and army-issued food rations.

What we have seen here is eight bodies, some of them with their hands tied behind their backs. This could be evidence of war crimes. The soldiers we're here with say that they were tortured before they died.

One of the men with tied hands is shirtless. His body is bruised, and he appears to have died from a bullet wound to the head.

Serhiy Kaplychnyi, Funeral Director, Municipal Funeral Service (through translator): I know one of these people personally. I have talked to him. His wife called me and asked me to help, Andriy Dvornikov. He drove a minibus for a company in Kyiv.

Question (through translator): Also shot in the head?

Serhiy Kaplychnyi (through translator): There, yes, in the head.

Simon Ostrovsky: Behind the local cathedral, a mass grave. We saw 13 bodies still exposed, but there are as many as 57 beneath the ground, according to Agence France-Presse.

In all, more than 300 civilian bodies have been recovered in Bucha so far, according to the community's funeral director. Part of Russia's response to allegations that its forces committed war crimes has been to blame the Ukrainians themselves for killing their own people after Russian forces pulled out on March 31. That timeline is not supported by the evidence, bodies like these of men in civilian clothes with gunshot wounds to the head in a partially decomposed estate. It also sat square with the accounts of residents of Bucha itself.

Viktor, Bucha Resident (through translator): They just took people and shot them for nothing just before they fled. The last five days, they were here, you could hear it, because, before, it was relatively quiet. You just hear their vehicles. But then there was automatic gunfire all over their place.

They killed an old lady in the school. We carried a body with a head wound out of a nine-story building. We found civilians in a garden over there, all of them straight to the head.

Simon Ostrovsky: Bucha and Irpin are as far as Russia's armored column made it. This is where the tip of the sphere was broken by Ukrainian resistance. What we are finding now, as the Russians retreated, is the devastation that they have left in their wake. And the civilian toll has been really high.

Yulia Truba, Partner of Andriy Dvornikov (through translator): He is a veteran. In other words, he served for a year and defended our country.

Simon Ostrovsky: Yulia Truba was visiting relatives when Russian forces occupied Bucha, where she lived with her boyfriend of three years, Andriy Dvornikov, the man whose body was found with his hands tied behind his back.

From witness accounts, she has been able to piece together that Russian forces were looking for military veterans, and likely executed him when they found out he served in the war in Ukraine's Donbass region several years ago.

Yulia Truba (through translator): I was told he was shot in the head. But, in the photos, he is face down. You can't see anything on the back of his head. That means they were looking in his eyes when they shot him.

This is insane. A sane person would not do that. It is such cruelty. It is the height of cruelty. How can you do that?

Simon Ostrovsky: With the atrocities in Bucha exposed to the world, Ukrainians no longer have any doubt they are fighting a war for their very survival, a war which is far from over, as Russia refocuses its efforts on conquering the country's east.

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Simon Ostrovsky in Bucha.

 Videographer Yegor Troyanovsky contributed to this report.


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