Tragic civilian deaths should be assessed honestly, not used to fuel propaganda machines
By Evgueni Norina The Russian historian focused on Russia’s wars and international politics
The Russian military offensive in Ukraine is still ongoing and recent events have sent shock waves across the world. A few days after troops withdrew from the small town of Bucha, near kyiv, Ukrainian authorities reported finding several bodies of dead civilians. What happened in Bucha is now compared to the massacre in Srebrenica – the Balkan town that became a symbol of the deadly war in Yugoslavia. Here’s what to keep in mind about it.
Civilian deaths are always a tragedy, no doubt, and they must be properly investigated. The rebellion in the Donbass and the resulting military assault today can be called one of the bloodiest armed conflicts in the post-Soviet space. The widespread destruction of Mariupol during the Moscow offensive, a group of Russian POWs shot dead by Ukrainians and a missile attack on residential areas of Donetsk by kyiv forces are just some of the atrocities that this war has known so far.
Bucha is another on this list. Between February 25 and mid-March, when Russian troops controlled this small town, it saw heavy fighting. But towards the end of March, the Russians left and the Ukrainians entered the city, followed by journalists from the French state media. They found dozens of dead civilians, some of whom had been there, unburied, for days or even weeks, according to reporters.
What happened in Bucha is undoubtedly a terrible tragedy. It should also be mentioned that Russia and Ukraine have requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on what happened in the city. However, the two countries describe what happened there in opposite terms.
At this time, little can be said with certainty about the events at Bucha. But one thing is clear: this tragedy calls for a full investigation.
However, some observations can be made at the outset. Most of these people must have been killed by artillery fire. There are several factors that support this theory. The most obvious evidence is that some of the bodies were found next to what look like shell craters, as seen in the videos. The fighting took place in the streets of Bucha. On February 27, a large Russian military convoy was hit by Ukrainian artillery fire on Vokzalnaya Street. Shelling by the Ukrainian army did not stop even after Russian troops captured the city.
It should be mentioned that both armies mainly use old tube and rocket artillery systems firing conventional high explosive shells which have poor target accuracy. When used in populated areas, they can easily kill someone even if they are far from the actual target.
On the other hand, armored vehicles were maneuvering the streets of Bucha all the time, which unfortunately can lead to civilian casualties, even when the troops don’t want that to happen. Visibility from inside an armored vehicle is very low, so the chances of running over civilian vehicles during sudden maneuvers are very high. Local militia units actively use civilian transport, including ambulances, which has become a distinctive feature of combat operations in Ukraine. This often results in the military shooting at any vehicles they deem suspicious.
Additionally, at least one of the bodies found on the road had its hands bound with a piece of white cloth. Oddly enough, this particular circumstance has a reasonable explanation – it’s common to tie a corpse’s hands together for transport, so they don’t hang down. The hands of slain rebel fighters, brought to the Donetsk morgue in May 2014, were similarly tied. At the time, this sparked speculation that the men had been executed.
And finally, it must be said that there are always raiding gangs operating in any war, whose actions are not driven by ideology. The massive distribution of weapons among the local population has reinforced the criminal groups, which is confirmed by the fact that many bandits apprehended at crime scenes were heavily armed.
The people whose bodies were found in Bucha, most likely were killed at various times and as a result of various events, which, by the way, explains the strange indifference to the tragedy on local social networks. Contrary to the reaction of the English-speaking press.
This article is not intended to accuse or exonerate anyone, but the author wishes to remind the reader that it always takes an impartial investigation, and preferably an international one, to draw a line under a case. as serious as this. Such tragedies cannot be avoided when two armies are fighting in an urbanized and densely populated area, with many civilians present.
Right now, the only thing we know for sure about Bucha is that it is a terrible war tragedy. Victims should be mourned and commemorated, and combat actions should be ended with peace talks as soon as possible. Specific episodes of civilian deaths must be properly investigated in order to clarify the circumstances of each tragedy.
It is natural to be overcome with emotions at the sight of a disfigured corpse, but let’s not forget that any such story also triggers military propaganda. Particularly in today’s social media era, where such campaigns can manipulate world opinion in just hours.
We have to make sure that we are not misled by this as well.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.