Will the Bucha massacre be a turning point in the Ukraine war?

The massacre uncovered in Bucha, a Ukrainian city, seems to have pushed the war to a new low – but could the universal horror rouse the West to more action?

Here’s a breakdown that explains how the disturbing discovery could take the entire conflict in a new direction.

Street with destroyed Russian military machines in the city of Bucha near Kyiv, which was recaptured from the Ukrainian army.

Only Photo via Getty Images

What happened in Bucha?

Bucha – just 26 kilometers from Kyiv – was attacked by Russian forces in March on their way to capture the capital.

It quickly became a front line in the conflict as the Ukrainians fought back.

Russian forces then began withdrawing from the region around March 30, reportedly due to resource shortages, meaning journalists regained access to the besieged city.

The Associated Press, published from the city, shows corpses on the streets of Bucha, with their hands tied behind their backs and wounds on the back of their heads.

According to the news agency, at least 21 bodies were found, including at least nine in civilian clothes.

Anatoly Fedoruk, Bucha’s mayor, said more than 300 residents of the city were killed, while Ukrainian prosecutors claim Russian forces used the basement of a house as a torture chamber.

Satellite imagery also showed a 45-foot-long mass grave in the city.

Local residents walk through the destroyed residential area on April 4, 2022 in Bucha, Ukraine.
Local residents walk through the destroyed residential area on April 4, 2022 in Bucha, Ukraine.

Anastasia Vlasova via Getty Images

Russia quickly denied any involvement, claiming that “all Russian units had completely withdrawn from Bucha by the end of March” – suggesting the bodies were strategically placed by the Ukrainians.

Moscow has also denied all war crimes allegations, claiming that “Ukrainian radicals” were responsible for the Bucha massacre, as “not a single civilian” was subjected to violent military action by Russian forces.

She claimed that the images of the bodies were “staged by the Kiev regime for Western media.”

This was soon contradicted by other satellite images from March 19 showing bodies lying in the street when the city was still occupied by the Russians.

Military analyst Professor Michael Clarke told Sky News that the massacre was likely due to Russian soldiers operating in “small friendship groups”.

He claimed that these cliques spiraled out of control, vengeful that the residents of Bucha decided to get on with their lives as Russia invaded and led to the massacre.

Allegations of war crimes are piling up

The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss possible war crimes by the Russian army, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

War crimes are defined by the UN as serious violations of international humanitarian law against civilians or “enemy combatants”.

The West has repeatedly accused Russia of war crimes in recent weeks, and the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has already initiated investigations.

Condemnation of Russia has only increased since the Bucha massacre hit the news.

US President Joe Biden has now called for a war crimes trial against Putin, whom he describes as a “war criminal”.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the photos showed the “incredible brutality of the Russian leadership and those who follow their propaganda,” while French President Emmanuel Macron said there was now “clear evidence of war crimes” in Bucha.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also said she was “appalled” by the sight of the massacre and the photos raise “serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes, serious violations of international humanitarian law and grave violations of international human rights”. .

“Genocide” claims from Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described the evidence from Bucha as “genocide”.

He was visiting Bucha for his first trip outside of Kyiv since the war began in February and soon struggled to contain his emotions as he witnessed the devastation.

He said civilians in those liberated regions had been subjected to treatment “not even seen during the Nazi occupation 80 years ago.”

As recently as Sunday, Zelenskyy criticized how “hundreds of people killed, tortured and executed civilians,” saying the “corpses in the streets…area booby-trapped…even the bodies of the dead are booby-trapped.”

He vowed, “The time will come when every Russian will know the whole truth about who among their fellow citizens killed, who gave orders, who turned a blind eye to the killings.”

Wladimir Klitschko, the brother of the mayor of Kyiv, also claimed that Bucha was evidence of genocide.

Zelenksyy accused Russia of genocide after the Bucha massacre
Zelenksyy accused Russia of genocide after the Bucha massacre

RONALDO SCHEMIDT via Getty Images

The brutal attack has fueled claims that Russia now intends to destroy Ukraine. Earlier, Moscow had claimed it wanted to “rid” its European neighbor of so-called “Nazification” at the top of the country’s government – despite there being no evidence that Nazis ruled in Ukraine.

More sanctions from the West?

Ukrainian officials have called for tougher sanctions against Moscow after the “rape, torture and murder” of Russian soldiers.

The country’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said on Monday: “Half measures are no longer enough. I call on our partners, on behalf of the victims of Bucha and the people of Ukraine, to impose the toughest sanctions on Russia this week.”

Macron appeared to agree that the massacre meant fresh action against Russia is now needed.

He told the French press: “I am in favor of a new round of sanctions, particularly on coal and petrol. We have to take action.”

However, despite unanimous outrage at the treatment of Ukrainians, this view is not shared across Europe.

Poland is pushing for a rapid phase-out of Russian energy in Europe, while Germany looks to gradually phase out Russia in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the UK has actually demanded that Russia be suspended from the UN Human Rights Council for its war crimes.

What does this mean for Russia’s attacks?

The massacre itself may not have changed Russia’s approach, but Putin has now diverted his troops away from Kyiv due to the strength of the Ukrainian resistance.

Soldiers will now turn a focus to the Donbass region, which includes the besieged city of Mariupol, as it appears to dominate the southeast.

Access to Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, is now blocked, according to the Ukrainian general staff, who added: “The enemy is regrouping its troops and focusing its efforts on preparing an offensive operation in the east of our country.”

Currently, two-thirds of Russian troops are on their way to Belarus or are already there to receive supplies and reinforcements.

Tweeting its latest update, the Defense Ministry concluded that fighting “will ease significantly over the course of this week as the remaining Russian forces withdraw” and regroup for a new deployment in eastern Ukraine.

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