Becky Sullivan / NPR
Pucha, Ukraine – Russian troops have not been inside the city for a long time, before returning to the home of Volodymyr Avramov, who lives on Voksal’na Street in Pucha, a quiet Ukrainian suburb.
Avramov, 72, said three Russians kicked doors and threw grenades. Inside were Avramov, his daughter and his son-in-law Ole.
They dragged Ole out and made him kneel – then shot him in the head while Avramov and his daughter were watching. The two had to stay in a basement for weeks as the fight continued.
“Ole had been lying on the street for a month. I could not get close to him or bury him, nothing,” he said.
Images of civilians dead on the streets of Pucha have shocked the world in recent days and raised concerns that Russian soldiers are committing war crimes in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky has called it genocide.
“Here lay piles of dead bodies, without arms, without legs, without skulls,” Avramov said. “You never see it in a dream, it’s horror.”
Stories similar to the one told by Avramov have been documented by Human Rights Watch, which has found evidence of the execution of civilians in a number of Ukrainian cities, including Pucha.
Now Ukraine has intensified its calls for more military aid to the West and more action against Russia.
“If we already had what we needed – these planes, tanks, artillery, anti-missile and anti-ship weapons – could have saved thousands of lives. I do not blame you – I only blame the Russian military, but you could have helped,” Zhelensky said in a statement on Monday.
So far 200 civilian bodies have been recovered
As part of the effort, Ukrainian authorities have arranged tours for foreign journalists: to see the scale of Russia’s catastrophe in Pucha: destroyed houses, darkened buildings, windows and the Apocalyptic Voxelna Street – a half-mile-long cemetery. Tanks and cars were burned.
Amid the rubble, demining crews showed reporters some of the explosives recovered from homes in the city. Authorities said about 4,000 were found Monday alone in a mixture of landmines, ammunition and unexploded ordnance.
Authorities say the bodies of about 200 civilians have been recovered so far in the Pucha area, and crews working every day to clear landmines and clear the rubble have found many more.
On Tuesday, authorities showed reporters that six bodies had been burned beyond recognition in a backyard in a quiet, wooded corner of the city. According to Ukrainian National Police spokesman Dimitrov Andreev, they were found the night before.
“We know they were shot because there were multiple gunshot wounds. Then someone burned the bodies and tried to cover up the crime,” Andrew said, adding that there were no signs of artillery shells or other explosives on the site.
Authorities say they are investigating their deaths to verify their identities once the bodies are found and for any evidence related to war crimes, including the physical evidence that their deaths were related to specific Russian soldiers.
“We know they came here to kill the Ukrainians as a nation and to destroy our country as a nation. But we have to prove it to the whole world. That is why we are meticulously gathering evidence,” Ukraine’s attorney general Irina Venedikova said on Tuesday.
In the midst of it all, a misinformation war breaks out
Russia has repeatedly tried to discredit photographs and other sources of civilians killed in Pucha.
“This is simply a well-directed – but sad – show,” the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday. “This is a sham aimed at discrediting the Russian military, and it will not work.”
Russian officials have made a number of claims about the origin of the images. Former President Dmitry Medvedev said the photos were taken by Western public relations agencies.
Another Russian theory is that the Ukrainians staged bodies after regaining control of the city. But Maxar’s satellite images show the dead have been in the area since mid – March, when Russian forces occupied the city.
Andriy Zagorodnyuk, who served as Ukraine’s defense minister from 2019 to 2020, said the campaign’s efforts have angered Ukrainian officials.
“It is quite clear that these people are not just wearing civilian clothes. They are civilians because most of them have already been identified. We know their addresses. They are locals. They are locals who lived in those houses,” he said. “It shows how sick the Moscow government is.”
Among everyday Ukrainians, Pucha’s pictures and stories evaporate how little sympathy there might have been for Russian soldiers, hundreds of whom were taken prisoner of war.
One Ukrainian soldier, who could not be named for security reasons, warned that Ukrainian forces should no longer try to capture the Russians alive.
“Now, in most of our sections there is information about Mariupol and how many dead people and those horrible pucca pictures are publicly available and no one will catch them anymore,” he said. “No one worries anymore. They’re all going to go to the ground.”
Daniel Wood contributed to this story.
Additional report by Nathan Rod and Luca Oleksin of NPR in Pucha and Irina Madviishin of LV.