Atrocities are piling up all over Ukraine. CNN witnessed some of the horrors.

This story contains graphic images.

While Ukrainians are recapturing territories previously occupied by invading Russian troops, evidence of recent weeks’ horrors is emerging from the rubble of shattered villages and towns. New victims are discovered daily. And those lucky enough to have survived the ordeal tell shocking stories of kidnappings, rapes and torture.

Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s attorney general, said Monday that her office is investigating 5,800 cases of alleged Russian war crimes, with “more and more” cases opening every day.

Russia has denied allegations of war crimes and claims that its forces are not aimed at civilians. But CNN journalists on the spot in Ukraine have seen first-hand evidence of atrocities in several places across the country.

Here’s what we saw.

From Clarissa Ward ind Staryi Bykiv

Novyi and Staryi Bykiv are two small spots on the map, separated by a small stream. Together, they form a sleepy society of about 2,000 people that you would expect few Ukrainians – let alone the Russian army – would be familiar with.

Katerina Andrusha told me that was why her daughter Victoria decided to leave her apartment in the Kyiv suburb of Brovary and return here at the beginning of the war; she thought it would be safer at home.

But on Feb. 27, residents say Russian forces rolled into nearby villages, turned the local school into their base, vandalized and looted homes and terrorized people here for five weeks.

On March 25, Katerina said Russian soldiers came to her home and took Victoria, claiming she had information about their forces on her phone.

Three days later, Katerina herself was captured. She said she was kept in a basement for three days. Blindfolded and terrified, she tried to figure out what had happened to her daughter.

“They told me she was in a warm house and that she was working with them and would be home soon,” Katerina said.

She said she has not seen Victoria since. As she spoke to us, Katerina’s gaze drifted in disbelief toward the sky. She showed us pictures of her daughter, a beautiful schoolteacher.

“We hope she will get in touch with someone, somewhere,” she said.

Just a few blocks away we met another mother. Olga Yavon’s grief was raw and all-consuming. She knew why we were there, and the moment she came out to greet us, she broke down in tears.

Her boys, Igor, 32, and Oleg, 33, are among six of the village’s young men who authorities say were executed by Russian soldiers on February 27.

She told us that Russian forces were gathering them after a nearby bridge was blown up.

The Russians held their bodies for nine days before dumping them on the outskirts of the village with instructions to bury them quickly, she said.

“They were very good boys,” Olga said. “Where would I like to see them again.”

Relatives weep at the mass grave of civilians killed during the Russian occupation of Bucha on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine, on Friday, April 8, 2022.

From Fred Pleitgen in Bucha

I have seen many terrible things in my career, but some of the things we were confronted with on the outskirts of Kiev after Russian troops were repulsed by Ukrainian forces have been among the most shocking.

In the suburb of Bucha, we were among the first to reach a mass grave that residents dug while the site was under Russian occupation because so many residents had been killed and longer funeral ceremonies would have been too dangerous in the midst of the shooting and shelling.
We saw half-buried bodies, legs and arms sticking out of the ground. We met a man who was sure his little brother was buried here; he broke down and could not stop crying. The neighbor who comforted him was also in tears.

These moments of heartache are hard to witness – they also make you want to cry.

Also in Bucha we were led into a basement where five bodies had been found – the Ukrainians say the men had been executed by Russian troops. Some had their hands tied and gunshot wounds to the head or heart.

One could still see the horror in their faces. It seemed as if the dead wanted the truth about their violent death to be revealed.

No matter how many bodies you see, you will never forget a single one.

A man lays flowers at a memorial at Kramatorsk railway station.

From Ben Wedeman in Kramatorsk

At 10.30 on Friday, as many as 4,000 people in and around the train station in Kramatorsk were waiting to be evacuated when a missile exploded overhead and rained down pieces of metal. Splinters ripped through the crowd, which largely consisted of women, children and the elderly. The latest death toll is more than 50, with more than 100 injured.
When we visited the station 48 hours after the explosion, we found the hall still stained with blood, filled with the scattered belongings of the dead and wounded.

On one platform we found a large puddle of clotted blood in a grenade splinter with several false teeth nearby. Someone, probably an elderly person, must have been hit and killed there.

City officials believe Kramatorsk could be surrounded, besieged and powdered by Russian forces if and when the long-awaited offensive in the east picks up speed.

The mayor had urged residents to leave, and before Friday’s strike, about 8,000 people a day were traveling by train heading west. The evacuation effort had been publicly announced, and people from surrounding towns and villages were urged to gather at the railway station in Kramatorsk, which was the major regional hub. There was nothing secret about it.

Russia has denied having targeted the station, claiming that the missile – a Tochka-U – is no longer used by Russian forces, and claims that it was a Ukrainian missile that hit the station. Military analysts reject the claim.

Part of the missile crashed into a small park in front of the station. Someone wrote somewhere on it in Russian “for the kids.”

While tagging and writing slogans on missiles, bombs and grenades is a very old tradition, it is not certain what the intended message was.

Volunteers collect the body of a man who was shot and killed in his car in Borodianka.  They say he was transporting medical supplies.

From Vasco Cotovio in Borodianka

The worst thing I have seen since I arrived in Kiev almost a month ago was supposed to be the body of a man we were shown in a backyard in Borodianka, northwest of Kiev.

We were led to the site by the owner of the house, who had fled the city during the first few days of the war. She returned when the invading troops withdrew, only to discover that her home had been ransacked by Russian soldiers.

Behind her garden shed, she showed us a man, with a bag over his head, his hands tied behind his back and his pants pulled down, exposing his underwear and severely bruised legs. He had a gunshot wound to the head and a single bullet box was still lying next to his body.

He appeared to have been tortured and executed by Russian soldiers, although we do not know for sure what happened to him.

By this time we had already seen the now infamous mass grave in Bucha, but the image of that man has stuck with me – I find the individual more related than the collective. It is easier to divide, to separate a group from the humanity they were robbed of.

A man is lying on the ground, hands tied behind his back, a gunshot wound to the head and a gunshot wound next to his body.

I keep thinking about that man and who he could have been.

A little he? Did he have a family? What were his ambitions? What led him to that backyard? Did he fight back, did he protest against the Russian occupation? What if it had been me – or my brother who lived in Kiev when the invasion started?

This man is a cruelty too much.

And then you realize that there are countless others still waiting to be found, under some rubble, in a shallow grave or in someone else’s backyard.

Leave a Comment