Ukraine: UN chief urges probe into Bucha massacre
By Robin Gomes
Extremely distressing images have emerged of dead bodies of civilians in streets and yards, in the wake of Russia's withdrawal from the Ukrainian town of Bucha, following weeks of intense fighting.
“I am deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a tersely worded statement, which was also posted on his official Twitter account. “It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability.”
Ukrainian authorities have said that the bodies of at least 410 civilians have been found in areas outside the Ukrainian capital after last week’s withdrawal of Russian troops — many with hands bound behind, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture.
Bucha's deputy mayor, Taras Shapravskyi told Reuters that 50 of some 300 bodies found in the town were victims of extra-judicial killings by Russian troops. Reuters, however, could not independently verify the report.
Ukraine presses for probe
Satellite images showed a 14-metre-long trench dug into the grounds of a church where a mass grave was found. Ukrainian officials have accused Moscow of war crimes.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the country will create a special justice mechanism to conduct an investigation into alleged atrocities involving international investigators, prosecutors and judges. He said that “the world has seen many war crimes,” adding that “the time has come to make the war crimes committed by Russian troops the last such evil on Earth.”
Russia rejects allegations
Russia's defence ministry said on Sunday that all photographs and videos published by the Ukrainian authorities alleging 'crimes' by Russian troops were a "provocation," and no resident of Bucha suffered violence at the hands of Russian troops.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Ukraine's version of what happened in the town of Bucha was a "fake attack" aimed at undermining Moscow, the state-owned TASS news agency reported. Lavrov said the dead bodies were "staged" and that images of them and what he said was Ukraine's false version of events had been spread on social media by Western countries and Ukraine. During talks with UN Under-Secretary-General Martin Griffiths Lavrov said that the Ukrainian claim of a massacre of civilians in Bucha as “a provocation that posed a direct threat to global peace and security.” Russia's top diplomat also called on Britain, which holds the presidency of the UN Security Council for April, to fulfil its responsibilities in that role after it rejected a Russian request to convene a meeting over Bucha.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that the Ukrainian claims can’t be trusted, adding that “we categorically reject the accusations” which are a “provocation” to smear Russia.
Calls for tougher sanctions on Russia
International leaders have condemned the reported atrocities and called for tougher sanctions against Moscow.
Germany said the West would agree to more sanctions on Russia in the coming days, with its defence minister saying the European Union should discuss ending imports of Russian gas.
French President Emmanuel Macron said new sanctions were needed, including on oil and coal
Bucha was captured in the days immediately after the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces who swept south, capturing the defunct nuclear reactor at Chernobyl and moving southwards toward the capital.
Bucha and the northern outskirts of nearby Irpin were the point at which the Russian advance from the northwest was halted after they met with unexpectedly fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces.
On Saturday, Ukraine said its forces had retaken all areas around Kyiv and that it now had complete control of the capital region for the first time since the invasion.
Ukraine’s casualties likely higher
The UN continues to press for an end to the war in Ukraine, which the Secretary-General has described as “unwinnable”. UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, shared the statement on Twitter. "Ukrainians are enduring a living hell for more than a month, thousands of civilians have died," she wrote. "This horrific war needs to stop."
In its latest update on the war on Sunday, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, recorded 3,455 civilian casualties. Of that number, 1,417 persons were killed, and 2,038 injured, though real figures are believed to be considerably higher.
Most casualties were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and airstrikes.
Humanitarian access critical
In a tweet on Friday, Guterres said the UN “is doing everything in its power to support people whose lives have been overturned by the war in Ukraine.” Humanitarians have reached more than 1.4 million people, mainly in the east, “but this is not enough” he said. “We need safe, unimpeded access to all areas.”
The fighting has displaced more than 10 million people, both within the country and outside its borders as refugees. More than 4.1 million have found shelter in neighbouring countries such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova, and beyond.