Nadiya Trubchaninova, 70, cries while holding the coffin of her son Vadym, 48, who was killed by Russian soldiers March 30, 2022, in Bucha, during his funeral in the cemetery of Mykulychi, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 16, 2022. Trubchaninova hitchhiked daily from her village to the shattered town of Bucha trying to bring her son’s body home for burial. AP photo by Rodrigo Abd, file.
By ELENA BECATOROS and HANNA ARHIROVA Associated Press
BUCHA, Ukraine — Ukrainians marked the anniversary Friday of the liberation of Bucha with calls for remembrance and justice after a brutal Russian occupation that left hundreds of civilians dead in the streets and in mass graves, establishing the town as an epicenter of the war’s atrocities.
“We will not let it be forgotten,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a ceremony in Bucha, vowing to punish those who committed outrages there that are still raw. “Human dignity will not let it be forgotten. On the streets of Bucha, the world has seen Russian evil. Evil unmasked.”
Bucha’s name has come to evoke savagery by Moscow’s military since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. Ukrainian troops who retook the town near Kyiv found the bodies of men, women and children on the streets, in yards and homes, and in mass graves. Some showed signs of torture.
Members of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service clear the rubble at the building which was destroyed as a result of Russian strike in Zaporizhzhia District, Ukraine, Friday, March 31, 2023. AP photo by Andriy Andriyenko.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, fighting continued Friday: Russia used its long-range arsenal to bombard anew several areas, killing at least two civilians and damaging homes.
And the Kremlin-allied president of neighboring Belarus raised the stakes when he said Russian strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed in his country, along with part of Moscow’s tactical nuclear arsenal. Moscow said earlier this week that it planned to place in Belarus tactical nuclear weapons, which are comparatively short-range and low-yield. Strategic nuclear weapons, such as missile-borne warheads, would bring a greater threat.
At the official commemoration in Bucha, Zelenskyy was joined by the Moldova’s president and the prime ministers of Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia.
From second left to right, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Robert Golob, and Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic attend a commemorative event on the anniversary of the liberation of the territories from the Russian troops in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 31, 2023. Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP.
The Kremlin’s forces occupied Bucha weeks after they invaded Ukraine and stayed for about a month. When Ukrainian troops retook the town, they encountered horrific scenes. Over weeks and months, hundreds of bodies were uncovered, including children.
Russian soldiers, on intercepted phone conversations, called it “zachistka” — cleansing, according to an investigation by The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline.”
Such organized cruelty, which Russian troops also employed in other conflicts such as Chechnya, was later repeated in Russia-occupied territories across Ukraine.
Zelenskyy handed out medals to soldiers, police officers, doctors, teachers and emergency workers in Bucha, as well as to the families of two soldiers killed during the defense of the Kyiv region. A woman and her daughter wept and nodded as they accepted an award.
“Ukrainian people, you have stopped the biggest anti-human force of our times,” he said. “You have stopped the force which has no respect and wants to destroy everything that gives meaning to human life.”
The body of a man who was killed with his hands tied behind his back lies on the ground in Bucha, Ukraine, April 3, 2022. AP photo by Vadim Ghirda, file.
Ukrainian authorities documented more than 1,400 civilian deaths, including 37 children, in the Bucha district, Zelenskyy said. More than 175 people were found in mass graves and alleged torture chambers, he said. Ukraine and other countries, including the U.S., have demanded that Russia answer for war crimes.
Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin alleged Friday that many of the dead civilians were tortured. Almost 100 Russian soldiers are suspected of war crimes, he said on his Telegram channel, and indictments have been issued for 35 of them.
A Ukrainian court has sentenced two Russian servicemen to 12 years in prison for illegally depriving civilians of liberty, and for looting.
“I am convinced that all these crimes are not a coincidence. This is part of Russia’s planned strategy aimed at destroying Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation,” Kostin said.
In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief said his office has verified the deaths of more than 8,400 civilians in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion — a count believed to be far short of the true toll. Volker Türk told the U.N. Human Rights Council that “severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine” during Russia’s invasion.
A family walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, April 6, 2022. The scenes that emerged from this town near Kyiv a year ago after it was retaken from Russian forces have indelibly linked its name to the savagery of war. AP photo by Felipe Dana, file.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, along with announcing the possibility of the deployment of Russian strategic nuclear weapons on his country’s soil, called for a cease-fire in Ukraine. A truce, he said in his state-of-the-nation address in Minsk, must be announced without any preconditions, and all movement of troops and weapons must be halted.
“It’s necessary to stop now, before an escalation begins,” Lukashenko said, adding that an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive using Western-supplied weapons would bring “an irreversible escalation of the conflict.”
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that Russia has to keep fighting, again claiming Ukraine has rejected any talks under pressure from its Western allies.
Peskov also dismissed remarks by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that the European Union was mulling the deployment of peacekeeping troops to Ukraine, calling that “extremely dangerous.”
Policemen work to identify civilians who were killed during the Russian occupation in Bucha, Ukraine, on the outskirts of Kyiv, before sending the bodies to the morgue, April 6, 2022. AP photo by Rodrigo Abd, file.
Russia has maintained its bombardment of Ukraine, with the war already in its second year. Along with the two civilians killed Friday, 14 other civilians were wounded early Friday as Russia launched missiles, shells, exploding drones and gliding bombs, the Ukraine presidential office said.
Two Russian missiles hit the city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, damaging eight residential buildings, the office said. Nine Russian missiles struck Kharkiv, damaging residential buildings, roads, gas stations and a prison. And Russian forces shelled the southern city and region of Kherson.
A barrage at Zaporizhzhia and its outskirts caused major fires.
Hanna Arhirova reported from Kyiv. Jamey Keaten contributed to this report from Geneva.
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South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launch occurred Wednesday but gave no further details, such as how far the missile flew.