Russian officials and the Kremlin’s information sources claim that the Russian Ambassador to the UN presented undisputable evidence at the UN press conference and the UN Security Council session which prove that some scenes from Bucha were staged and some of the civilians were killed by the Ukrainians themselves (link 1, link 2, link 3 and link 4).
On 4 April 2022, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, stated at the press conference that scenes from Bucha are yet another provocation of Ukraine. As stated by Mr Nebenzya, not a single local was subjected to violence when Bucha was controlled by the Russian Armed Forces.
That which the Kremlin says is evidence is, in fact, merely absurd accusations or already verified and debunked fake news stories.
According to Vasily Nebenzya’s claims, Russian forces withdrew from Bucha on 30 March 2022 as a result of negotiations held in Ankara. To confirm his claim, Mr Nebenzya showed footage of the Mayor of Bucha, Anatoly Fedoruk, where he speaks about the liberation of Bucha by the Ukrainian army.
On 31 March 2022, Anatoly Fedoruk did indeed speak about the liberation of Bucha, although other statements and information accessible from open sources cast doubt about the Russian claim that the Russian military had completely withdrawn from Bucha by 30 March 2022. For instance, the Russian media outlet TV Zvezda reported on 1 April 2022 that “units of airborne troops, in coordination with navy marines, successfully deterred adversary forces’ actions for five days at the direction of Hostomel-Bucha-Othera. As a result, navy marines were able to fully control the territory from Irpin river to Kyiv with a total length of five kilometres.”
On the same day, Taras Shapravskyi said in his video published on Telegram: “Currently, the town remains under occupation. There is numerous mined equipment, mined houses and even mined corpses. Therefore, we ask people still in town not to approach dangerous objects. The liberation of the town is underway, the Ukrainian armed forces and the territorial defence act to take back every metre of our homeland’s soil.”
Therefore, claim that the Russian occupiers left Bucha on 30 March 2022 is unconfirmed.
The first “evidence” that Russia presented at the special press conference in the UN is as follows: “The mayor of Bucha looks happy in the video and smiles. He does not say anything about killed people or mass graves. It is hard to imagine that he forgot to mention these atrocities in the video.”
It is impossible to accept this statement as “evidence.” It is absurd to blame Ukraine for the tragedy in Bucha because of the mayor’s smiling face and this is not considered as “evidence” by any legal standards.
According to the second claim, Ukraine said nothing about the atrocities in Bucha either on 1 April or on 2 April. In addition, footage released by the Ukrainians does not show that there are dead bodies in the streets.
This claim is a lie. In fact, photographs/footage of the dead bodies scattered across the streets started to circulate in the Telegram group on the evening of 1 April and at dawn on 2 April (link 1, link 2, link 3 and link 4). More photographs/footage and information started to emerge after the Ukrainian military and international journalists started to gradually enter different parts of the town (link 1, link 2). President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made an official statement about the bigger picture on 3 April 2022.
According to another claim of the Russian Ambassador, footage released by the Ukrainian soldiers on social networks is yet another piece evidence that civilians with white armbands were slaughtered by Ukrainian soldiers themselves and not by Russians. However, Vasily Nebenzya fails to name the context and the exact date as well as the time when the footage was recorded and whether or not the instructions were carried out. The Russian Ambassadors seeks to prove that the Ukrainians killed their own civilians with this piece of footage when Bucha was already liberated from the occupiers.
As stated by the Russian Ambassador, Russian military required from civilians in Bucha to wear white armbands (those worn by the Russian troops themselves) since Ukrainian fighters are not always dressed in a military uniform and this was a way to distinguish civilians from fighters. In turn, Ukrainian soldiers wear blue armbands. In the footage shown by Vasily Nebenzya, a Ukrainian soldier asks another soldier whether or not he can shoot those not wearing blue armbands and the answer is affirmative.
As mentioned earlier, this footage cannot be evidence for blaming Ukrainians that they killed people with white armbands. This footage was uploaded in Telegram channel at 00:33 AM on 3 April 2022 and it was supposedly recorded on 2 April 2022. However, bodies of dead people with white armbands are already visible in photographs/footages from at least 1 April 2022 and, moreover, a body with a white armband is visible in satellite images taken on 9-11 March 2022. This is the period when Bucha was controlled by the Russian military.
This body is better visible in satellite images taken on 19 March 2022 and published by the BBC. Therefore, the claim that civilians with white armbands were killed by the Ukrainians after Russian troops withdrew from Bucha is a lie.
Other claims which Ambassador Nebenzya considers as undisputable evidence are about the state of the corpses. He claims that the dead bodies were not rigid, did not have a typical cadaver appearance and traces of accumulated blood, something which he says is unnatural.
In an interview with the BBC, one of the forensic pathologists who worked on war crimes investigations in Rwanda and Kosovo stated that a 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, 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.
Getting fed up of this “it’s a moving arm” bullsh….. it’s a raindrop on the windscreen, alongside an inverted channel version for more clarity. The whole arm moving thing is just ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/ZiuEX4rFWc— Aurora Intel (@AuroraIntel) April 3, 2022
According to the second version, a vehicle’s right-hand wing mirror shows how a dead body changes position in a matter of seconds and if initially it is lying down, after a few seconds it seems to be “sitting up.” This claim is also false as the slowed-down version of the footage shows that a vehicle’s right-hand wing mirror clearly distorts the reflection of the body. However, it also distorts the reflection of the surroundings, including houses and the wider premises. According to the BBC, aspheric mirrors cause such a phenomenon (see the video).
Based on these false claims which the Russian Ambassador to the UN refers to as evidence, Vasily Nebenzya argues that Ukraine killed some of its citizens and staged some of the scenes.
In regard to the staged scenes, the New York Times analysed satellite images of Bucha and concluded that at least 11 bodies had been on the street since 11 March 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 11 March 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-sized dark objects which start to appear on Yablonska Street from 9 to 11 March. The positions of these objects are perfectly aligned with the positions in which bodies are shown in footage from 1 April 2022. Further analysis also demonstrated that the objects remained in the same position for over three weeks.
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.
On 5 April 2022, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson Liz Throssell stated that the images of the atrocities carried out in the Ukrainian town of Bucha show “all the signs” that civilians were “directly targeted and directly killed.” In her address, she also spoke that some individuals lying in the street were shot to the head or had their hands bound.
The photographs released by Ukraine shows that people fell victim to directly targeted bullets which undermines the Russian Ambassador’s claims that bodies have no blood traces and a cadaver appearance.
This is confirmed by the journalists reporting from liberated Bucha and eyewitnesses who were present when the Russians made targeted shots.
A Reuters reporter who was in Bucha on 3 April 2022 confirms that all three bodies in the street bore bullet shots to the head and they had their hands bound. In all three cases, there were no signs of any other significant injuries elsewhere on the bodies.
Russia’s Ambassador to the UN also claims that people who stayed in Bucha during the presence of Russian military there do not speak about violence. In fact, Human Rights Watch collected stories of those people who survived the mass killings in Bucha. The survivors speak about facts of violence, abuse, rape and targeted killings committed by the Russian army. They tell the same stories with the international media as well (Radio Liberty, Aljazeera, CNN, Reuters).
Furthermore, Ukraine released footage which shows the killing of a man on a bicycle. This footage was recorded by the Ukrainian troops in early March when the Russian army was in control of Bucha. The New York Times confirmed the authenticity of the footage.
Therefore, the Kremlin’s claim that they presented a set of evidence to the UN which proves Ukraine’s crimes in Bucha is fake. That which the Russian Ambassador presented at a special press conference and the UN Security Council are impossible to be considered as “evidence.” Most of them are easily verifiable false claims and the rest is absurd allegations which are not considered as evidence in any format.
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.
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