The corpses, charred and partially decomposed, were scattered among the piles of rubbish on the edge of a forest. The torn remnants of the garment stuck to the pieces of skin. Who is a man, who is a woman, who is an adult, who is a child – this cannot be determined at a glance. A severed leg, poorly sung, was located a short distance away.
About 100 yards from the playground, with swings and slides, was this desk under the shade of a tree.
Each member of the Ukrainian forensic team wore blue plastic gloves and worked with training speed. They overtook the journalists, pushed them down the crime scene tape, and hurriedly collected the pieces and pieces and put them in black bags. The composition of some parts seemed unavoidable, so the corpses merged. To carry it to the morgue, workers zipped the bags tightly and lifted them up.
Residents say the city, northwest of the capital Kiev, is a good place to live. The epitome of forests, ponds and parks. Shopping Centers, Condo Towers, Health Clubs: Despite the inevitable urban growth, Pucha retains its semi-rural vibe.
Now, Ukrainian authorities have found Russian war crimes, civilian homicides aimed at civilians, with some tied behind their backs and subjected to brief executions. Video footage of the victims lying on a street amazed the world – and provided additional military assistance to counter the Ukrainian offensive and new impetus for sanctions against Moscow.
People were “killed in flats, houses, grenades,” President Volodymyr Zhelensky told the United Nations on Tuesday, and some civilians were “crushed by tanks … in the middle of the road for fun.”
Ukrainian officials say the bodies of at least 417 civilians have been found in cities in the Kiev region that have recently been recaptured since Russian troops retreated. Who they all are and how exactly they died are questions that remain under investigation as authorities work to identify those who died in the second month-long war.
In the words of Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russia has denounced the scenes in Pucha and other nearby cities as fake – “anti-Russian provocation managed on stage”.
However, in Pucha and other suburbs, Twitter videos of the killings and satellite photos of troop movements seem to be powerless to prevent such atrocities, despite how the world has provoked collective outrage. Authorities are continuing to collect bodies from shallow graves, streets, courtyards and other sites – including the vacant lot where six victims were evacuated Tuesday. Authorities say the remains of six people, like some of the victims, were burned in a vicious attempt to cover up the crime.
While collecting the dead, officers and the military are engaged in another task: to clear the remaining landmines, unexploded ordnance and other war debris in Pucha and other previously occupied cities. “Danger: Landmines” warning signs in the area. The military has warned that some buildings could be trapped by landmines.
But the weapons and equipment scattered in the streets did not deliberately leave trash. Their presence led to the infamous offensive of Russia on the northern fringes of Kiev and the retreat of its forces. Pucha is not only a cemetery for Ukrainian dead: it is also a cemetery for Russian war logistics, and may have been the site of Moscow’s apparent intention to quickly attack Kiev and capture the capital.
A street in Pucha bears brutal testimony to the onslaught of Russian hardware and the failed ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A dozen or so Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers’ burnt logs and at least one fuel tanker mark the city’s three-barrier length. On this tree-lined street, chickens nest in adjacent yards. Twisted ammunition, pieces of metal, coils of wire, pieces of tires, cartridge belts, tank tracks – a black tank tower sits in the front yard of a house.
The scene where it is destroyed, as the giant who breathes fire, tearing the machines with steel nails and expressing his anger. The wreckage is the result of a Ukrainian ambush, which involved drone strikes, apparently just days after the February 24 Russian invasion. It is not clear how many Russian soldiers were killed in the attack and how many survived. Among the ruins is an army boot, with visible bones shattered inside.
Experts adjusted the scene and removed the dangerous bombs. But in a kind of surreal march – journalists were invited to step on the rubbish and broadcast pictures of a distracted Russian column around the world.
The houses on these and other streets are often empty. Pucha is a ghost town these days. Most of the residents fled the Russian Blitz, along with millions of other displaced people. Curtains are now fluttering through the windows of high-rise apartments where no one lives.
Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk said only one-tenth of Pucha’s 30,000 pre-war population remained. He warned city dwellers to stay away until landmines and other hazards are removed and electricity is restored.
Some residents seeking food and other assistance gathered outside a shopping center on Tuesday looted by artillery. Bullet shells, pieces and broken glass debris on the ground. The burned-out power plant stood across the street, and its dilapidated condition gave workers no hope of recovering electricity.
Street dogs battled food waste in the empty parking lot of the shopping center.
Many of the occupants who hid outside were elderly. They could not, or did not, want to escape the Russian attack. They appeared on the street like demons crouching in the scorching cold. They have been living without electricity, water and heat for weeks.
“I want to be warm again – hot bath and clean,” said Lisa Andreshenko, 46, one of those standing in line for help. “It always feels like we’ve been hot, having the right hot food.”
Snow fell across the business area.
Leonid Mutnichenko, a 58-year-old retiree, showed good enthusiasm despite the circumstances. His family had a secret weapon: an antique wood stove that he and his mother had almost thrown away, but now – with no heat or power – was actually quite effective. He laughed at the trickery of everything.
She was wrapped in layers of shawls and large coats by her mother, Valentina Kuzkovko, 80. She did not complain about the cold.
She had big thoughts: “We have to save our country,” he said.