Video posted to social media on Saturday and verified by The Washington Post showed at least nine people, including one child, lying in the street of a residential area in the town of Bucha, north of Kyiv, after Russian forces retreated. They appear to be dead.
As the driver weaves between bodies, burned out cars and fallen trees, a narrator says: “If you say that Russian soldiers are people …” and then adds, “simply for general understanding of what happened here.”
Additional video posted to social media Saturday shows two men driving through the city. They pass abandoned cars, some of which appear to have been stripped for parts. Debris, tires and old antitank blockades crowd the roads. At one point, as they round a corner, two severely damaged black cars are visible. The word “STOP” is painted on both in English in big, bold white lettering.
Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, a town of 37,000 northwest of Kyiv, and other suburbs of the capital in recent days, leaving a trail of destruction. Russian troops fought for control of Bucha starting on Feb. 27 — three days after the invasion began — and “relentless shelling” trapped residents in homes and shelters without electricity or gas, according to Human Rights Watch. The fighting took out the city’s water tower a week later.
Human Rights Watch interviewed residents who described Russian soldiers looting houses and recounted hearing reports of civilians being shot while attempting to get water. One woman said Russian soldiers had threatened to shoot her if she tried to retrieve her husband’s body.
Journalists on the ground in Bucha on Saturday recounted seeing bodies strewn across streets. The bodies of at least 20 men in civilian clothes were lying on a single street, and one had his hands tied, Agence France-Presse journalists reported. The cause of death was not immediately apparent, AFP said, though one body appeared to have a large head wound.
Reporters from the Associated Press counted six bodies of civilians along a street and in the front yard of a house.
AFP described the bodies as displaying indications, including waxy skin and dark nails, that the people had been dead for several days at least.
Bucha’s mayor, Anatoly Fedoruk, told The Post by phone that around 270 local residents had been buried in two mass graves. He also said that about 40 people were lying in the streets but that it was difficult to get a count. Some of the bodies had their hands bound or were shot in the back of the head, he said.
Fedoruk said the bodies would not be touched until security services determine that they are not rigged with explosive devices.
“Until the special services give us an answer to the question of whether we can safely bury them according to Christian custom, we can’t handle the bodies,” he said.
Ukrainian authorities have accused Russian forces of mining bodies and civilian buildings as they retreated from Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv. In a video address to Ukrainians early Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was “mining the whole territory.”
“They are mining homes, mining equipment, even the bodies of people who were killed,” he said.
The Post could not verify those claims.
Asked whether the bodies found around Bucha included Russian soldiers, Fedoruk said that “hundreds of Russian soldiers” were “sleeping eternally” in the region and that Ukrainian authorities would contact the soldiers’ families and close contacts to inform them of their deaths.
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.
The response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an apparent answer to the annexations.
In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.
The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.