Conflicting Massacre Allegations Emerge in Ukraine

Ukraine and Russia have both accused each other of being responsible for the apparent massacre that took place in the Ukrainian town of Bucha last week. Neither government is an especially reliable source and each of the competing stories has significant problems. If the massacre really was carried out by retreating Russian forces then it would likely be the worst war crime observed in the conflict so far, though very little has been independently confirmed at this point.

Russian troops allegedly slaughtered civilians before retreating

The Ukrainian side of the story holds that Russians went on a murderous rampage through Bucha before they retreated as part of the general Russian withdrawal from around Kiev.

Advancing Ukrainian forces retook the town and discovered as many as several hundred bodies, some of them with their hands tied behind their backs and with single gunshots to the head.

The Ukrainian explanation is obviously stronger than the Russian narrative at the moment, but there are some glaring issues which leave enough room for doubt before making any conclusions.

The mayor of Bucha announced the liberation of the town on March 31, while the videos and reports of the massacre emerged on April  2 well after Ukrainian troops retook the area.

This does not disprove the Ukrainian narrative, but it is strange that there was be such a delay and that the mayor did not immediately mention the shocking scenes encountered in Bucha.

The Ukrainians may have been keeping the story quiet while they collected evidence and pieced together what happened, but this would be a drastic change in behavior given that Kiev has not hesitated to publicize any other alleged war crimes.

Russia denies carrying out Bucha massacre

The victims themselves appear to have been primarily men and footage shows  many of them somewhat awkwardly spread around the streets of Bucha, perhaps having been shot while attempting to flee.

Russia does not seem to have settled on an entirely coherent narrative yet, but Moscow is strongly denying Ukrainian claims about the Bucha massacre and has attempted to bring the matter before the United Nations Security Council to present its side of the story.

That story claims that Russian troops retreated from the area on March 30, and that they did so in a hurry and would have had neither the time nor the motive to round up and kill civilians.

This is somewhat flimsy, as no one knows when the killings took place exactly and massacres have taken place with no reasonable motives in other wars, My Lai in Vietnam being one notorious example.

On the other hand, Ukrainian special forces and military police units did enter the town before the footage emerged; they were officially assigned to identify “saboteurs” and collaborators in addition to assembling evidence of war crimes.

A thorough and fully independent and nonbiased investigation is needed to establish what exactly happened in Bucha, but under present circumstances that seems depressingly unlikely.

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