On 4 April 2022, Russian authorities claimed that tragedy in Bucha was a provocation from Ukraine and a hoax. As evidence, the Kremlin says that Russian troops withdrew from Bucha on 30 March whilst Ukrainians did not say anything about dead people in their statements made on 31 March and 2 April. In addition, Russia claims that at least four days after, the dead bodies did not become rigid nor did they have a typical cadaver appearance and traces of blood which is unnatural (link 1 and link 2).
In fact, Russia’s claim that the scenes in Bucha are staged is a piece of disinformation. The New York Times analysed satellite images of Bucha and concluded that at least 11 bodies had been on the street since March 11 when Russia occupied the town.
Footage recorded by a local council member on 1 April 2022 in Bucha shows multiple corpses scattered across Yablonska Street. Satellite images, provided by Maxar Technologies to the New York Times, prove that at least 11 bodies had been on the street since March 11 when Russia occupied the town.
In order to prove when peaceful civilians were killed and their bodies started to appear in the streets, a visual investigation team from the New York Times did a pre and post-situation analysis of satellite images. The images show human-size dark objects which start to appear on Yablonska Street from 9 to 11 March. The positions of these objects are perfectly aligned with positions in which bodies are shown in 1 April 2022 footage. Further analysis also demonstrated that the objects remained in the same position for over three weeks.
The causes of death are unknown. Dead bodies were found in different places. The piece of second footage which was recorded on Yablonska Street shows three bodies. One of them lies next to a bicycle and another is near an abandoned car. Satellite images show that this abandoned bicycle, the car and the nearby bodies appeared in the period of 20-21 March.
Source: New York Times
Russia claims that the dead bodies were not rigid, did not have a typical cadaver appearance and traces of accumulated blood. This, according to Russia, is unnatural and it seeks to use this as an instrument of manipulation. In an interview with the BBC, one of the forensic pathologists who worked on war crimes investigation in Rwanda and Kosovo stated that the body becoming rigid “usually subsides” by the fourth day after death. In regard to a cadaver’s appearance, the pathologist stated that the appearance of a human who was killed by a firearm or as a result of violence significantly differs based on what firearm was used, what was the shooting distance, etc.
In addition, Russia’s claims that the dead bodies have no blood stains and, therefore, the scenes are staged. This is fake. As stated by the aforementioned forensic pathologist, there is not always visible blood on a dead body since blood may accumulate in different places – pool underneath the body or soak into thick clothing, for example. In addition, if a body lies facing downward, blood accumulation place may not be visible from a photograph.
According to another false claim from Russia, the bodies are moving in the footage released by Ukraine. The video is not a high quality one, although careful analysis shows that the so-called “moving arm” is in fact a dot at lower right angle of a vehicle’s windshield – this could a stain or a rain drop.
The Kyiv region was fully liberated from the Russians on 2 April 2022. According to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Irina Venediktova, 410 bodies of murdered Ukrainian nationals were removed from the Kyiv region. Mass graves of civilians were also found in the region, including ones in Bucha. Satellite images from Maxar Technologies confirmed that the first signs of mass graves near the Church of Andrew the Apostle and All Saints in Bucha appeared on 10 March.
The President of European Council, Charles Michel, released a statement on his official Twitter account on 3 April 2022, saying that what happened in Bucha was a massacre: “Shocked by haunting images of atrocities committed by the Russian army in the Kyiv liberated region #BuchaMassacre. The EU is assisting #Ukraine & NGOs in gathering necessary evidence for pursuit in international courts. Further EU sanctions & support are on their way.”
On 3 April 2022, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stated that Russia's "despicable attacks" on innocent Ukrainian civilians in Bucha and Irpin are more evidence of war crimes.
Human Rights Watch has documented cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations against civilians in the occupied regions of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv, including cases of violence committed in Bucha. Human Rights Watch in Europe and Central Asia Director, Hugh Williamson, stated on 3 April 2022: “The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians. Rape, murder and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes.”
On 4 April 2022, the US President, Joe Biden, called Putin “brutal” and a “war criminal:” “You may remember I got criticised for calling Putin a war criminal. Well, the truth of the matter – we saw it happen in Bucha – he is a war criminal. This guy is brutal and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous.”
On 4 April 2022, Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, stated: “These reports from Bucha are showing a wider pattern of war crimes including extrajudicial executions and torture in other occupied areas of Ukraine. We fear the violence suffered by civilians in Bucha at the hands of Russian soldiers is not unique. These incidents should be investigated as war crimes.”
On 4 April 2022, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated that he was deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine and highlighted the importance of an independent investigation that would lead to effective accountability. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that reports from Bucha “raise serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes as well as grave breaches of international humanitarian law and serious violations of international human rights law.”
On 5 April 2022, the European Union released a statement where it condemns in the strongest possible terms the atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces in a number of occupied Ukrainian towns that have now been liberated. The statement says that the massacres in the town of Bucha and other Ukrainian towns will be inscribed in the list of atrocities committed on European soil.
Therefore, Russia’s claim that Ukraine staged the scenes of dead bodies of civilians is fake. Satellite images show that bodies in Bucha appeared as early as three weeks ago. A number of international organisations believe that Russia’s actions committed in Ukraine qualify as war crimes.
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