A massive search for the bodies of Russian occupiers is taking place in Bucha

BUCHA, Ukraine – Bodies lay in every neighborhood.

This week, investigators in this Ukrainian city searched homes and mass graves to find out how many there were.

Russian soldiers occupied Bucha for a month, and their campaign of atrocities killed hundreds. Since the city was retaken by Ukrainian forces last week, investigators have been drawn in from across the country to search neighborhoods for the remaining dead.

In a basement, they found five men, each with their hands tied before someone shot them in the head. Another body lay in a clearing not far away, left behind with the rubble of a former Russian military camp.

As police fanned out across the city in search of more, investigators gathered at a mass grave near a gold-topped church in central Bucha. Officials had suspected it contained at least 50 bodies. The senior officer, dressed in a black uniform and a vest that read “War Crimes Prosecutor,” turned to his colleague, who would count them.

“Alina,” he said, “you can start.”

Ukrainian officials said early Friday that their week-long search in Bucha had collected 320 bodies, almost half of which have yet to be identified. This number does not include those cataloged throughout the day on Friday.

According to residents who endured the Russian occupation, the treatment of a district depended on its occupiers. Some units behaved better than others. But executions took place across the city. Investigators say dozens of these followed ongoing abuse. Others were simply part of the daily violence with which the soldiers – some drunk, some frightened – spread terror among the population.

In Bucha, the focus is on the extent of Russian barbarism

At the mass grave on Friday, forensics officers carefully worked the sandy soil, pulling body bag by body bag out of the pit onto the ground before opening it, registering it, and then gently zipping it shut.

Russian soldiers had confiscated cellphones and separated families for weeks. When the soldiers left, many residents found that relatives were missing.

Some stood at the grave on Friday in search of answers as to whether this was their resting place. “I came here because my son got lost here,” said 63-year-old Natalia Lukianenko. She had tried calling him more times than she could remember.

When she asked his friends, they said he hadn’t called.

“There are people who say their children are buried there,” Lukianenko said anxiously as she put a reassuring arm around her daughter Anna.

The 27-year-old looked down.

“We hope he’s alive,” she said.

Ruslan Kravchenko, the Bucha district war crimes prosecutor, said the team examined 21 bodies, 19 of whom were killed by gunfire or shrapnel. Two were women. “All necessary investigations are being carried out,” he said. The search should continue on Saturday.

The prosecutor’s job is the same as that of officials in other cities where abuses by Russian forces have been reported. On Friday, officials in Makariv, southwest of Bucha, said authorities had collected at least 132 bodies while the search continued.

In Bucha, Washington Post reporters saw other bodies being discovered.

On a forest path off Yablunska Street, the body of a Ukrainian man, identified by his wife, was left by Russian soldiers after they had retreated.

In the northern sector of the city, police entered a yard and found a woman who had committed suicide. The noose she had used to hang herself was still visible on a tree under a canopy of vines. As they searched the garden for more evidence, one of the investigators stopped and shook his head.

“It was bad in that place,” he said. “People were so scared”

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As the extent of the bloodshed became apparent, Ukrainian officials called on the international community to bring alleged crimes committed in Ukraine to an international court.

If not, said Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, standing at the grave, “then it means we have no law or rule of law at all.”

With authorities overwhelmed, video footage showed at least one body had been left in a vehicle on a nearby highway for nearly a month.

According to a video, the body of a woman dressed in civilian clothes was lying in the front passenger seat posted on Twitter by a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. Holes that appear to be from bullets or shrapnel riddled the vehicle.

The video was released by lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko, who said in the recording that the body belonged to a woman. Goncharenko said a family fled the war when they were hit by a Russian attack.

Satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows the vehicle was there for at least three and a half weeks. A satellite image taken on March 9th shows the vehicle in the same location as in the video.

Satellite images from Maxar Technologies show the damaged car captured in April 3 video in the same spot on a road outside Bucha throughout March. (Video: TWP, Photo: TWP)

The time frame overlaps with intense fighting on the outskirts of Bucha. As Russian troops carved a devastating path through suburbs like Bucha that surround the capital Kyiv, they aimed to encircle the city, US officials say.

It didn’t work that way.

A road approaching the city has become a virtual graveyard for tanks attempting to invade. In Bucha there are only a few traces of the troops, only Ukrainian corpses.

A police investigator cautiously stepped through the gate of another home, where his instructions indicated a murder had taken place. His shoulders sagged. He looked exhausted.

“Leave us all alone here with our dead,” he told journalists who recorded the scene. “Leave us alone to mourn her.”

Serhiy Morgunov in Bucha, Jon Swaine in New York, and Sarah Cahlan and Reis Thebault in Washington contributed to this report.

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