Editor’s note: There are graphic images in this story.
Liv and Pucha, Ukraine
Russia’s tanks and armored carriers speeded down a residential street in Pucha, a wooded suburb of the capital, Kiev. It’s February 27th.
Shortly afterwards, the same convoy of vehicles ambushed by Ukrainian forces lay in the rubble.
There is no sign of the pillar players. In a video showing the devastation, a man could be heard muttering: “I want you all to be burned in hell.”
But that Ukrainian victory must be short-lived; Pucha’s month-long occupation by Russian forces continued.
As the Kremlin shifts its focus from the Ukrainian capital to the east of the country, the name of the suburbs has become a proverb for war crimes this week, following reports of brief executions, brutality and indiscriminate shelling following Russia’s emergency retreat.
In recent days, Moscow has claimed that the atrocities in Pucha were staged – without evidence – as “fake” and part of a “planned media campaign”.
But witnesses who spoke with CNN said the massacre in the city began weeks ago.
The disaster there includes other cities and towns in Ukraine, such as Russia’s Playbook, where officials say civilian infrastructure has been attacked – power shortages, water cuts and communication towers damaged – making it difficult for locals. Against Russian troops. But Ukraine did not surrender.
There have been reports of looting, disappearances and evidence of indiscriminate killings of civilians since the beginning of the war.
Pucha – once a home to affordable housing, green spaces and good schools – and other areas nearby – was a magnet for young families as Russian troops stormed the area in March, making it a lifelong dream.
It is difficult to verify the stories of the looted houses, the senseless murders and the escapees of Kevin’s cytomer along the highway – now the graveyard for broken tanks and burnt cars.
In Pucha, pitched roof houses collapsed under the force of Russian artillery fire.
Residents say they have no choice but to turn their vegetable gardens and courtyards into temporary cemeteries, as the presence of Russian troops could not reach the morgue or the local cemetery.
Anna Bliss, 48, lived in Pucha for eight years before Russian troops arrived. She took refuge in her home with her husband and two sons, but when the power went out on March 4 and the pipes dried up, she told CNN it was clear they had to leave.
They decided that Pilos and his two sons would flee to the nearby suburb of Irbine on March 9, while her husband stayed behind to care for the family’s elderly neighbor.
The trio traveled on side roads to avoid Russian soldiers, but when they returned to Yablunska Street, the family was shocked to find corpses scattered across the road – a lifeless man had fallen under a bicycle.
Bliss believes the man’s body was there for a month, until he and 20 other civilians were photographed to see the world last weekend.
The mayor of Pucha described their death as an execution.
Philos’ account and satellite imagery captured on March 18, shared by Maxar Technologies, show bodies lying on the street for weeks as the city was under Russian control – Russia held Pucha until March 31.
On Tuesday, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov continued to deny allegations of brutal civilian killings in Pucha, saying the claims were “unsubstantiated, but they were a well-staged tragedy” and “a hoax aimed at discrediting the Russians.” The military. ”
On Monday, at a health center on Voksal’na Street, about a mile away, Ukrainian authorities took journalists to a cold basement where the mutilated and bloody bodies of five people were lying decomposed.
Some of those who were in this dim light were restrained on their knees. Others, with their hands tied behind their backs, were shot multiple times. The bullet casings scattered on the ground.
Anton Zherashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said it was a gruesome scene of torture and execution by Russian soldiers. CNN cannot independently verify his claim.
Authorities say the men have been killed in the past three weeks. Their bodies have not yet been identified as no personal documents are available.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that no one was injured.
“Given that the troops left the city on March 30, where are the four days of footage? Their absence only confirms the fake.
Authorities say Russian forces laid siege to the sanatorium in the second week of March. Levels for many foxholes, trenches and armored vehicles are found around the site; The remaining Russian rations were dropped nearby.
The exterior walls of the facility are decorated with the letter “V”, a symbol used by Russia’s Eastern Military District, and “Z”, a symbol similar to Russia’s “Special Military Operation” symbol.
This horrific scene was most demonstrated for Vladislav Minchenko, who vomited after volunteering to help remove the bodies from the basement on Monday.
Minchenko, 44, who worked as a painter before the war, said, “This is not what we learned in school. He raised his hands and told CNN the number of dead bodies was” hundreds – not dozens – hundreds “since the beginning of the conflict.
Residents say those injured in the shelling, live fire and trigger-happy Russian soldiers attack Pucha are too dangerous to be treated at a local hospital in the city center.
The local morgue in Pucha was left without space as deaths rose in March; To deal with all the bodies, a tractor was brought in to dig a mass grave in the grounds of St. Andrew & Byrvosvannoho All Saints Church, its abbot Andre told the CNN of Art.
“The death toll was high and there was no way to bury them properly because going to the grave by shelling was simply unbelievable,” Kalavin said.
There was also a shortage of resources such as coffins as the main bridge connecting Pucha with Irfin was demolished at the beginning of the war, Kalavin said.
This weekend, Kiev regional police and residents believed the remains of at least 150 people were buried in the cemetery, but the mayor of Pucha said the death toll could be as high as 300. .
Kala returned to Pucha last week after the city was liberated; He said the bodies would be exhumed and identified through DNA analysis, giving comfort to relatives who are still searching for missing loved ones.
Ukrainian President Zhelensky warned on Monday that the catastrophe in Pucha was only the tip of the iceberg.
“In many villages in the liberated districts of Kiev, Chernihiv and Sumi regions, the invaders did things that locals did not see even during the Nazi occupation 80 years ago,” said President Zhelensky. “The occupiers must be held accountable for this.”
In the village of Motijin, 20 miles south of Pucha, there is a gruesome example of indifference to human life. The local mayor, Olga Sukenko, was found half-buried in a ditch with her family. Ukrainian officials said Saturday that he had been killed after being captured by Russian forces.
Also, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vareshchuk said that 11 local mayors had been detained by the Russians, which CNN could not verify.
“Unfortunately, so far, we have not been able to contact or release any other city mayors. We do not know. We think some of them were killed,” he told CNN, promising to pay the culprits. For the crimes they committed against Ukraine.
“We will find them and kill them. We will punish our city mayors, our journalists, our priests, all those who killed our activists.”
As Ukrainian officials compete to clear mines and landmines by retreating Russian troops, they fear civilian casualties could be high in Borodianka, 14 miles west of Pucha.
Oksana Kostychenko and her husband Oleksandr fled the area on February 27 and then returned home to Borodyanka over the weekend. They found the house had been looted and looted by Russian soldiers.
The couple also found the dead man in their backyard. His hands were tied behind his back and his trousers were pulled down.
“Alcohol is everywhere. Empty bottles in the hallway, underneath things, “Oksana said.” They smoked a lot, put cigarettes on the table … lived here as they wished. ”
Anna Pluss and her sons left Pucha on March 10th. But the fate of the dead man lying under a bicycle still haunts her when they escape.
“I feel like I could be in the same place where my sons and I died,” he said. “I feel the pain and sadness of all these lost people.”