Becky Sullivan / NPR
BUCHA, Ukraine – Russian forces had not been in the city long before returning home to Volodymyr Avramov, a resident of Vokzal’na Street in the quiet Ukrainian suburb of Bucha.
Three Russians kicked in the doors and threw a grenade, the 72-year-old Avramov said. Inside were Avramov, his daughter, and his son-in-law, Oleh.
They dragged Oleh outside and made him kneel – and then shot him in the head while Avramov and his daughter watched, he said. The two then had to seek shelter in a basement for weeks while the fighting continued.
“Oleh lay on the street for a month. I could not get close or bury him, nothing,” he said.
Pictures of dead civilians along the streets of Bucha have shocked the world in recent days, raising concerns that Russian soldiers are committing war crimes in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called it genocide.
“There were piles of dead corpses here, without arms, without legs, without skulls,” Avramov said. “You would not see it in a nightmare. It’s horror.”
Stories similar to the one Avramov told have been documented by Human Rights Watch, which found evidence of execution-like killings of civilian men in several Ukrainian cities, including Bucha.
Now Ukraine has intensified its calls on the West to provide more military aid and take greater steps against Russia in hopes of tipping the scale as the fight shifts from Kiev to eastern Ukraine.
“If we had already got what we needed – all these planes, tanks, artillery, anti-missile and anti-ship weapons – we could have saved thousands of people. I do not blame you – I only blame the Russian military. But you could have helped, “Zelenskyy said in a speech Monday.
200 bodies of civilians have so far been found
As part of the effort, Ukrainian authorities have organized trips for foreign journalists to see the extent of Russia’s destruction of Bucha: destroyed homes, blackened buildings, blown windows and the apocalyptic Vokzal’na Street – a half-kilometer-long cemetery with burnt-out tanks and cars .
Amid the ruins, members of a demining team showed journalists some of the explosives found from homes in the city. About 4,000 were found Monday alone, officials said, a mix of mines, ammunition and unexploded missiles.
The bodies of about 200 civilians have so far been found in the Bucha area, officials say, and more are being uncovered every day as crews work to remove mines and clear rubble.
On Tuesday, officials showed journalists six bodies burned beyond recognition in a backyard in a quiet, wooded corner of the city. They had been spotted the night before, according to Dymtro Andriv, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Police.
“We know they were killed by gunfire because there are many gunshot wounds. Then someone tried to cover up this crime by burning the bodies,” Andriv said, adding that the site had no evidence of artillery fire or other explosives.
As corpses are revealed, authorities say they are working to verify their identities and investigate their deaths for any evidence of war crimes, including physical evidence linking their deaths to specific Russian soldiers.
“We know they came here to kill Ukrainians as a nation and to destroy our country as a state. But we must prove it to the whole world. That is why we are carefully gathering evidence,” Ukrainian Attorney General Iryna Venediktova said on Tuesday.
In the middle of it all, a war of misinformation rages
Russia has repeatedly tried to discredit pictures and other evidence of dead civilians in Bucha.
“It’s simply a well-directed – but tragic – show,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday. “It’s a forgery aimed at dismantling the Russian army, and it will not work.”
Russian officials have made several claims about the origin of the images. Former President Dmitry Medvedev said Western public relations firms produced the photographs.
Another Russian theory believed that Ukrainians staged the bodies after regaining control of the city. But satellite images from the company Maxar show that the dead had been in place since mid-March, when Russian forces occupied the city.
The propaganda efforts have disgusted Ukrainian officials, said Andriy Zagorodnyuk, who served as Ukraine’s defense minister from 2019 to 2020.
“It’s quite clear that these people were not just dressed in civilian clothes. They were civilians because most of them have already been identified. We know their addresses. They are local. They are local residents who lived in those houses. , ” he said. “It just shows how sick the Moscow government is.”
Among everyday Ukrainians, the images and stories from Bucha have evaporated the little sympathy that may be left for Russian soldiers, hundreds of whom have been taken prisoner as prisoners of war.
A Ukrainian soldier, who for security reasons could not reveal his name, warned that Ukrainian forces may no longer try to take Russians alive.
“Now that most of our units have the information about Mariupol and how many dead people and the horrible Bucha images are publicly available, no one will catch them anymore,” he said. “No one cares anymore. They all need to be in the ground.”
Daniel Wood contributed to this story.
Further reporting from NPR’s Nathan Rott and Luka Oleksyshyn in Bucha and Iryna Matviyishyn in Lviv.