In Bucha, burials continue for victims of wartime atrocities
By Lynsey Addario and Marc Santora
By spring, a semblance of normal life had returned to Bucha after 33 days of terror. The destroyed remnants of the Russian army, which was driven out of the city by April, were long gone, and the rhythms of normal life had returned.
Now, nearly six months since the Russians abandoned their effort to seize Kyiv and left behind mass graves of slaughtered civilians in this Kyiv suburb, Bucha is bustling. But they are still burying the dead.
On Wednesday, another 21 bodies were put into the ground. They had no names, only numbers.
When No. 124 was taken from the truck brought to ferry the dead, two feet, bony and bruised, peeked out of the soiled black body bag. A grave digger put No. 154 in the ground, a vast row of crosses behind him.
After roughly 400 bodies of Ukrainians were discovered in April, the killing of civilians in Bucha quickly became a symbol of the savagery of the war. Hundreds have been buried; those put in the ground Wednesday were among the last.
The Rev. Andrii Halavin, the priest of the town’s church, has buried nearly all of the town’s unidentified dead. He performed the task one more time, offering a traditional prayer for the dead, walking around the graves with incense and blessing each one.
But as an anxious nation looks south, to the lands occupied by Russia for nearly six months, there is growing fear that the burials in Bucha were not just a coda to one tragedy but perhaps a prelude to another. Every day, more stories of Russian brutality are being told by witnesses who managed to flee places under Russian occupation.
The stories they tell bear striking similarities to the crimes committed in Bucha. People taken from their homes at night and never seen again. Looting, torture, murder. The stories come pouring out of people who have fled, nearly all impossible to independently verify but also bearing many of the same hallmarks of the documented atrocities in Bucha.
As Ukraine attacks Russian positions deep behind enemy lines with the assistance of local partisans, the reports of brutal efforts to weed out the insurgents have grown.
In the sticky heat of an August afternoon, the stench of the dead filling the air, the task in Bucha was as simple as it was grim: to try to offer some dignity in death to those whose identity in life remains unknown.
The official tally of the dead in Bucha, released by the City Council last week as the burials began, is 458. They include nine children.
But officials said it was probably an incomplete tally. And after the numbers were released, a Bucha Territorial Community foot patrol found a human body in the forest near the side of road.
The body belongs to a resident of Kyiv, born in 1964, who was shot by the Russian invaders, according to a statement by the Bucha City Council. The victim’s daughter, the Council said, was kidnapped by the Russians and taken to the territory of Belarus on Feb. 28. Her whereabouts remain unknown.