Drone footage confirms bodies in Bucha were there before Russians left

Nice work here by Meduza to corroborate the satellite imagery published by the New York Times a few days ago. Russia claims that the now-famous scene of corpses lying out in the open on Yablonska Street in Bucha is Ukraine’s handiwork, a false-flag murder spree by Ukrainian forces after the Russians withdrew on March 30.

Not so. Many of those bodies were there and visible from the sky before March 30. The Times used satellite footage but Meduza got hold of drone footage from late March.

To give you a sense of how cynical the Russians are about their killings of civilians, pro-Russian accounts were celebrating the missile strike on a Ukrainian train station this morning before it emerged that scores of civilians were dead in the attack. Those celebratory posts were then quietly deleted, no doubt expecting that the Kremlin would claim that the Ukrainians had done it themselves. Which they did, of course:

Now that Bucha’s survivors are free to speak to reporters, stories are emerging that explain why so many bodies were found on Yablonska Street. According to witnesses interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the Russians were relatively well behaved during the first week the town was occupied, early in the war. Which makes sense: The Russian army believed Ukraine would be a cakewalk and that they’d soon be part of a permanent occupation force. Why alienate the locals unnecessarily by treating them harshly when the war would be over within days?

But then more units entered the town as it began to dawn on the Russians that they were in for a fight. “The atmosphere darkened,” the locals told the WSJ. Snipers were positioned around town and residents were given a 4 p.m. curfew. The Russians reportedly became spooked that the locals were spying on them and conveying their positions to Ukrainian troops. Yablonska Street in particular was soon treated as a no-go zone since it connected Bucha to Irpin, where battles were raging. One man who lives in Bucha said the soldiers told him they had orders to shoot anyone who so much as stepped foot on that street.

They meant it:

Behind 306B Yablunska Street, two Russian soldiers checked the documents of a man named Leonid, as Iryna Hryhorivna, who gave only her first and middle names, watched from her apartment window. When Leonid turned to walk away, one of the soldiers pulled out a gun.

“He shot him right in the head,” she said. “He fell right next to the car near our window. They stepped over him and left.”

As the Ukrainian army advanced towards Bucha and shelling of the town began, some locals became desperate to leave. But that required accessing Yablonska Street, and so:

“They told us, ‘You cannot cross along the road,’ ” Iryna Hryhorivna said. “ ‘At all. You can’t go anywhere. If you set foot on the sidewalk or the road, you were immediately killed.’”

People desperate to flee still made a break for it along the road toward Irpin. The first killing on Yablunska befell a woman on a bicycle, said Mr. Shatylo, who witnessed it from his home near the intersection with Vokzalna Street. “First I heard a shot, then I saw her,” he said. “How could a grandmother on a bicycle interfere with anyone?”

Suddenly it’s clear why so many bodies were left to rot on the street for weeks on end. Their families couldn’t retrieve them or else they’d be murdered in cold blood too. And the Russians evidently couldn’t muster enough humanity to make a special exception so that the bodies could be taken away.

Turning a main thoroughfare into a free-fire zone is among the least of the Russian army’s crimes in the town. Other residents report men being led away with their arms bound behind them, only to turn up dead later. One woman saw snipers gun down three men cooking a meal in the courtyard of their apartment complex. There are claims of rape as well. Reporters from the Washington Post and the New Yorker have also been talking to Bucha residents this week and heard stories of a man who was out walking his dog being detained, forced to kneel with a gun at his head for 40 minutes, and then executed.

One common thread in the WSJ, WaPo, and New Yorker dispatches is alcohol, with some residents claiming to have smelled it on the Russians’ breath and others discovering huge numbers of empty bottles near the bodies of dead Ukrainians. The more charitable interpretation of that is that the Russians had moral misgivings about the wanton killing they were engaged in and needed some help to lower their inhibitions. The less charitable interpretation is that they were treating their occupation like a party, getting blitzed and then indulging in a bit of murder for sport as part of the fun. A Ukrainian official recently described Russian operations in Bucha as a “safari” for those troops.

There’s no reason to think that what happened in Bucha will be the worst of the worst either. It may turn out that it’s not even the biggest Russian slaughterhouse in the Kiev suburbs:

The worst of the worst is likely to be Mariupol given the privations that city has suffered for the past six weeks and the amount of fighting that’s gone on there. Rumors have circulated that the Russians are using mobile crematoria to dispose of some of the bodies in the city. (“This is no longer Chechnya or Aleppo. This is the new Auschwitz or Majdanek,” said Mariupol’s mayor.) I’m hesitant to believe it, just because it’s so diabolically sinister that it fits a bit too easily into Ukraine’s message about the Russians. But it wouldn’t be the first time in modern history that hard-to-believe reports of crematoria being used in Europe were borne out.

Exit quotation from a Russian dad whose son was recently killed in battle: “I know the Russian spirit and I know that Russians do not shoot at civilians. Only Nazis could do that.”