Bucha, Ukraine – Ukraine on Friday marks one year since Russia withdrew from the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, leaving the bodies of executed civilians strewn in the streets in what has become a symbol of alleged Russian war crimes.
Russian forces withdrew from the commuter town northwest of the capital on March 31, 2022, just over a month after President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.
In their wake, they left behind scenes of horror that shocked the world.
AFP journalists on April 2 discovered the bodies of at least 20 people in civilian clothing, some with their hands tied behind their backs, lying in a street of the suburb.
During a visit to Bucha two days later, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky described the killings of civilians as “genocide”.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian troops of war crimes after the discoveries at Bucha, pointing to an abundance of footage and witness accounts.
But Moscow denies the accusations, claiming the atrocities in Bucha were staged.
Many foreign leaders and officials who have visited Ukraine since the war started have made a stop in Bucha.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he had a “strong sentiment of indignation” while in Bucha last week.
After Russia withdrew from near Kyiv, the fighting shifted to the south and east of Ukraine, with the embattled city of Bakhmut now the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle since the invasion.
– ‘Continue to live’ –
But a year after it was retaken by Kyiv’s forces, Bucha has not forgotten its victims.
The community of what was once a family-friendly suburb is rebuilding, and locals told AFP “the pain subsides” and that they must “continue to live” despite their collective trauma.
AFP on Thursday saw dozens of construction workers weaving between diggers and dump trucks, as they worked to rebuild homes and roads in the town, which had a pre-war population of some 37,000 people.
Archpriest Andriy, who runs the local parish, said it is “important” not to forget those who are “not with us today”.
“But it is also important for us not to live in the past, but in the future,” he told AFP.
In the weeks following Russia’s withdrawal from other towns near Kyiv, hundreds more bodies were found in homes, basements and shallow graves across the north.
Ukraine wants to establish a special tribunal to prosecute Russia’s leaders, but there are complex legal disputes over how it could work.
The International Criminal Court earlier this month issued an arrest warrant for Putin over the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine.
Chief ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has described Ukraine as a “crime scene”.
Russia has repeatedly denied any abuses by its forces.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova during a press briefing on Thursday called the brutal scenes in Bucha a “crude and cynical provocation” by Kyiv.