Ukraine Marks Grim Bucha Anniversary, Calls for Justice

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on as Slovenia's Prime Minister Robert Golob delivers his speech during a commemorative event in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 31, 2023. Efrem Lukatsky, AP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on as Slovenia's Prime Minister Robert Golob delivers his speech during a commemorative event in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 31, 2023. Efrem Lukatsky, AP
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Ukraine Marks Grim Bucha Anniversary, Calls for Justice

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on as Slovenia's Prime Minister Robert Golob delivers his speech during a commemorative event in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 31, 2023. Efrem Lukatsky, AP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky looks on as Slovenia's Prime Minister Robert Golob delivers his speech during a commemorative event in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on March 31, 2023. Efrem Lukatsky, AP

Ukrainians marked the anniversary of the liberation of Bucha Friday 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 near Kyiv 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 found the bodies of men, women and children on the streets, in yards and homes, and in mass graves. Some showed signs of torture, The Associated Press said.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, fighting continued Friday: Russia used its long-range arsenal to bombard 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 Moldova's president and the prime ministers of Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Russian troops occupied Bucha weeks after they invaded Ukraine and stayed for about a month. When Ukrainian forces retook the town, they encountered horrific scenes. Over weeks and months, hundreds of bodies were uncovered, including of 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.

“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.”

Ukrainian authorities documented more than 1,400 civilian deaths, including 37 children, in the Bucha district, and more than 175 people were found in mass graves and alleged torture chambers, Zelenskyy said. Ukraine and other countries, including the US, have demanded that Russia answer for war crimes.

Among the civilians killed was 69-year-old Valerii Kyzylov, whose wife survived but for whom the horrors inflicted on Bucha, her home town, are still raw.

“I remember everything like it was yesterday,” she said, twisting a handkerchief in her hands as she stood at a candle-lit vigil on Friday evening. “A year has passed but I still see it before my eyes.”

She cried as she recounted the horror she endured a year ago. Of Russian troops shooting her husband dead and leaving the body lying in the street for days. Of the Russian soldiers taking over her house, where she was forced to live in the basement. They would bring other civilians to the basement, she said, some with bags over their heads, and they would decide there whom to execute and whom to allow to live.

“I lived with my husband for 47 years. We have two children. We had such a nice family,” she said, weeping. “This pain is so great. He was so beautiful. He was killed for nothing.”

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 UN 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 UN Human Rights Council that “severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine” during Russia's invasion.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, along with announcing the possibility of the deployment of Russian strategic nuclear weapons in his country, 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 that 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.”

Russia has maintained its bombardment of Ukraine, with the war already in its second year. Along with the two civilians killed Friday, 14 others were wounded as Russia launched missiles, shells, exploding drones and gliding bombs, the Ukraine presidential office said.

Two Russian missiles hit the eastern city of Kramatorsk, damaging eight residential buildings, the office said. Nine missiles struck Kharkiv, damaging residential buildings, roads, gas stations and a prison, while Russian forces shelled the southern city and region of Kherson. A barrage at Zaporizhzhia and its outskirts caused major fires.

In the battered front-line town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine, a baby and adult were killed in Russian shelling, according to the presidential office. Before the Russian invasion, about 25,000 people lived in Avdiivka. About 2,000 civilians remain.



North Korean Official Criticizes US for Expanding Support for Ukraine 

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un smile during their meeting at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un smile during their meeting at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
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North Korean Official Criticizes US for Expanding Support for Ukraine 

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un smile during their meeting at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un smile during their meeting at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

A top North Korean military official on Monday criticized the United States over its expanding military assistance to Ukraine, reaffirming the reclusive state's support for Moscow in the Ukraine war, according to state media KCNA.

Washington and Seoul have been increasingly alarmed by deepening military cooperation between Russia and the North, and have accused them of violating international laws by trading in arms for Russia to use against Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied any arms transfer.

A pact signed by Russia's Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during Putin's visit to Pyongyang last week commits each side to provide immediate military assistance to the other in the event of armed aggression against either one of them.

Putin on Monday thanked Kim for his hospitality during the trip which brought ties to an unprecedented level, the Kremlin said on Monday.

Analysts say the pact would lay the framework for arms trade between the two countries and facilitate their anti-US and anti-West coalition.

Pak Jong Chon, one of North Korea's top military officials, said Russia has the "right to opt for any kind of retaliatory strike" in a statement carried by KCNA on Monday, adding if Washington kept pushing Ukraine to a "proxy war" against Russia, it could provoke a stronger response from Moscow, and a "new world war".

He referred to comments by the Pentagon last week that Ukrainian forces can use US-supplied weapons to strike Russian forces anywhere across the border into Russia.

Senior officials of South Korea, the US and Japan condemned "in the strongest possible terms" deepening military cooperation between North Korea and Russia in a joint statement released by Seoul's foreign ministry on Monday.

Russia may have received about 1.6 million artillery shells from North Korea from August to January, the Washington Post reported on Saturday, analyzing data from a US security nonprofit C4ADS that shows 74,000 metric tons of explosives moved from Russia's far east ports to other sites mainly along the borders near Ukraine.

Putin's mutual defense agreement with North Korea has the potential to create friction with China, which has long been the isolated state's main ally, the top US military officer said on Sunday.

North Korea plans to send construction and engineering forces to Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine as early as next month for rebuilding work, a South Korean cable TV network TV Chosun reported earlier, citing a South Korean government official.

Those forces, working overseas under the disguise of construction workers to earn hard currency for the regime, would be moved from China to those Russia-held regions, the network said. South Korea's foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment on the TV Chosun reports.