As evidence of war crimes in Bucha Mountains, a hunt for Russian military units

On March 11, the commander of an artillery unit of the 76th Air Assault Division of the famous Russian Guard was killed in a battle in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

Captain Gennady Bayer was killed, according to a death announcement published about two weeks later in a chat room of the social networking site VK, in landmine explosion In the northwest town of Kyiv. He commanded the 234th Guards Air Assault Regiment.

Another Russian soldier, from the 64th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, had his mobile phone lost or stolen when he was killed. According to Ukrainian intelligence, which published a screenshot of the phone, it was found in Bucha; A number associated with the phone matches the social media account at the brigade’s home base.

Bucha is a crime scene.

Increasingly, it also became universally synonymous with the atrocities that Russian forces might have committed during the first six weeks of their attack on Ukraine.

Days after Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, workers are struggling to remove the bodies of dozens, perhaps dozens of civilians, from city streets, hastily dug mass graves and basements of buildings, and bury them properly. An unknown number of civilian bodies show signs of summary execution, their hands tied behind their backs. Some of them had gunshot wounds to the head.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Western investigators struggle to gather evidence and take witness testimony, as the government vows to prosecute what it says are war crimes.

Searching through social media, public lists of dead soldiers, video footage from the devastated city, and other information, RFE/RL reporters sought to identify some of the military units that were known to have occupied Bucha between the start of the war. The invasion took place on February 24 and April 1, when Ukrainian forces recaptured it.

What happened in Bucha?

The presence of Russian military units in Bucha, and the other Ukrainian towns and cities they have occupied, is not evidence of war crimes, and investigators may be under heavy pressure to piece together conclusive evidence that can withstand scrutiny in a court or court.

But in Bucha’s case, the information that has already emerged – photos, videos, eyewitness accounts – as well as the fact that the city has been under Russian military control for more than a month, provide strong circumstantial evidence pointing to Russia’s guilt.

Anatoly Fedorok, the dean of Bosha, posted a video on March 31 in which he said that Ukrainian forces had retaken the city after a Russian withdrawal. It was not immediately clear whether the Russian forces left on or before March 31. The Ukrainian military said its forces entered Bucha on 1 April.

On April 3, Oleksiy Aristovich, advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Posted a list Of the Russian units, military and the National Guard, which he said were deployed in Bucha and two other towns in the Kyiv region, Irpin and Hostomil.

Among those he named were the 104th and 234th Air Assault Regiments of the 76th Airborne Assault Division.

Headquartered in the northwestern Russian city of Pskov, the division is famous in Soviet and Russian military history, for its bravery on the battlefield and brutality. During the Second Chechen War in the early 2000s, paratroopers of the 76th Airborne Division were accused of indiscriminately killing Chechen civilians.

One of the clues to the presence of paratroopers in Bucha was the post on social media about the killing of Baer, ​​the commander of the artillery unit.

At some point around March 26, a video appeared online, produced by Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Agency, showing a captured soldier whose unit was identified as the 76th Airborne Division. The video was later removed by YouTube but a copy of it was posted on the Ukrainian journalist’s Telegram channel.

In the video, the soldier, named Timofey Popov, describes how on February 24 his unit received orders to head to Ukraine and was posted to “clean hostel or bucha”. According to Popov, he was instructed to break into apartments in apartment buildings with a sick person and take the people inside to the basement. He did not mention what happened to them after that.

RFE / RL was not able to independently verify the video, but there were press reports from Bucha from witnesses who said that the doors of their apartment were opened with levers and relatives were taken by Russian soldiers. Bodies were also photographed in the cellars.

Bodies of civilians in plastic bags are dumped in a mass grave in Bucha on April 4.

Bodies of civilians in plastic bags are dumped in a mass grave in Bucha on April 4.

In a video released by the Associated Press on April 3 from Bucha, a briefly neglected wooden ammunition box appears. The box has markings indicating that it belongs to the 7th Airborne Assault, 234th Regiment, 76th Airborne Division.

Cell phone, Instagram account

Another unit that Aristovich identified as occupying some towns northwest and east of Kyiv is the 64th separate motorized rifle brigade, headquartered in the Khabarovsk region, on the Pacific coast of Russia’s Far East.

On April 3, the Telegram channel appears to have links to the Ukrainian army Post a screenshot From the phone of a Russian soldier describing it as “the phone of an occupier in Bucha [that] is found.”

The screenshot showed an Instagram account with a phone number that RFE/RL was able to trace to a 29-year-old resident of Khabarovsk. RFE/RL was unable to determine if the man was part of the 64th Brigade, but photos from the man’s friends and acquaintances on social media show soldiers from the 64th Brigade.

Later Ukrainian Military Intelligence Agency Posted a list Hundreds of names and other identifying information for officers and soldiers from the 64th Brigade. This list could not be independently verified.

The spread of Belarus

Other units known to occupy some towns north of Kyiv include another paratrooper unit: the 331st Guards Airborne Regiment of the 98th Division, headquartered in Kostroma, northeast of Moscow. The regiment commander, Colonel Sergei Sukharev. killed, killed On March 13, he was posthumously awarded military honors. However, it is not clear exactly where and how he died.

The Ministry of Defense of Belarus – from which many Russian units that were sent towards Kyiv in northern Ukraine – also entered mentioned At a ceremony in which the 331st Airborne Regiment took part on January 25, a whole month before the start of the war.

On February 28, meanwhile, a photo of a list of soldiers killed in Bucha, from a unit identified as “Second Division 2nd Platoon”, appeared on another Telegram channel called Search For Your Own. The channel is full of pictures of Russian soldiers killed or captured in Ukraine.

RFE / RL traced one of the names on the list of dead soldiers to a profile on social media indicating that the soldier served in the 56th Guards Air Assault Regiment, based in Russia’s Volgograd region.

Amid mounting international resentment and condemnation of Moscow, the Russian authorities denied the involvement of Russian forces in the killing of civilians in Bucha or other cities of the Kyiv region. Russian officials, without providing evidence, claimed that photos and footage were widely circulated by Ukrainian and Western media.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, also without evidence, noted that the photos showed fake signs, and that the timing of the withdrawal from Bucha meant that Russian soldiers could not be responsible. This statement contradicted eyewitness reports from Bosha.

Human Rights Watch, which is based in the United States Evidence gathering And interviews with Bucha residents, it was concluded that there were “clear war crimes” committed in the areas controlled by Russian forces.

Written by Mike Eckel based on reporting by Mark Krotov and Oleksandra Wagner of the Russian Service at RFE/RL. The Belarus Service / RFE / RL contributed to this report