KYIV: President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday hailed Ukraine for fighting off “the biggest force against humanity of our time”, one year after the first bodies were found in the streets of Bucha. The quiet Kyiv suburb was occupied by Russian troops for more than a month last year and its name has become synonymous with the alleged war crimes carried out by Moscow during the invasion.
Russia has accused Ukraine and its allies of staging atrocities. The anniversary comes a day after Russia took over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council despite outrage from Kyiv and Western nations that have imposed sanctions on Moscow. “People of Ukraine! You have stopped the biggest force against humanity of our time,” Zelensky said in a post on Telegram, accompanied by photos of areas liberated a year ago when Russian troops retreated from around the Ukrainian capital.
“You have stopped a force that despises everything and wants to destroy everything that gives people meaning,” Zelensky said. “We will liberate all our lands,” he said. Russia currently occupies around 18 percent of Ukraine’s territory. Also marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Kyiv region, Ukraine’s armed forces chief Valery Zaluzhny wrote: “We will continue to fight for the independence of our nation.” On April 2, 2022, AFP journalists visited Bucha and saw the bodies of 20 men in civilian clothing, including one with his hands tied behind his back, in a heavily destroyed town.
The scenes sent shockwaves around the world, with Kyiv and its Western allies condemning executions of civilians. Prosecutors in Kyiv say that Russian forces killed some 1,400 civilians around Bucha, including 637 in the town itself, and that they have identified dozens of Russian soldiers responsible. When he visited Bucha shortly after the discovery of the bodies, Zelensky appeared visibly moved and said Russia had carried out “war crimes” that “will be recognised by the world as genocide”.
Since then almost every foreign leader who has visited Ukraine has also travelled to Bucha to pay their respects. On Friday—the first anniversary of Russia’s retreat from the Kyiv region—Zelensky said he hoped that Bucha would become a “symbol of justice”. “We want every Russian murderer, executioner, terrorist to be held responsible for every crime,” he said. ‘Massive bombardment’ – After Russian troops retreated from the Kyiv region, they also drew back from parts of the northeast and south of the country.
But the front line has remained almost static in recent months, with Russian troops claiming only marginal gains—mainly around the battleground city of Bakhmut in the east. The gains have come with steep casualties and Ukraine’s defences have held, with help from supplies of Western arms. The Russian army, supported by the Wagner paramilitary group, has pressed hard to surround Bakhmut—hoping to claim a battlefield victory after the string of humiliating reversals.
On the ground, the intensity of the fighting has decreased from the start of the year despite intense clashes around Bakhmut. Andriy Yermak, head of Zelensky’s office, on Sunday said Russian forces carried out “a massive bombardment” on the village of Kostyantynivka near Bakhmut, killing six people and injuring eight. – AFP