A terror reborn

Published by The Daily Mail (4th April, 2022)

The images that have emerged after Russia’s retreat from the outskirts of Kyiv are haunting, harrowing and a hideous reminder of the darkest chapters from Europe’s history.

One shows a solitary woman walking past burnt-out Russian tanks amid the flattened buildings of Bucha, near Kyiv, the suburban town now almost unrecognisable from a few short weeks ago.

Another picture reveals a soldier nervously prodding a body with a stick to see if it is booby-trapped. A third portrays female soldiers returned to Ukraine in a prisoner swap. Their heads have been shaved in humiliation by captors trying to strip them of dignity.

These are just a handful of the grotesque images of streets liberated by Ukrainian troops after they forced back Vladimir Putin’s forces.

Many pictures from the capital’s outskirts are too distressing to publish. There are claims of mass graves.  Corpses of men with hands tied behind backs, shot through the mouth or with a bullet to the brain. Bodies of cyclists and children slaughtered on the streets of a European city once filled with busy cafes, schools and shops.

Some lie face-down on the pavement. Some died in flames, trapped in their cars. Others stare up at the skies with mouths wide open as if screaming in anguish at the horrors of Russian occupation, from an invasion that began only 40 days ago.

Often, these people were not soldiers. They are innocent victims of the most ghastly atrocities. They were human beings whose lives ended in terror at the behest of a blood-stained monster bidding to revive his nation’s imperial past. Many were found lying on the streets of Bucha among the sinister litter of war – destroyed tanks, spent bullet casings, shattered glass, shards of artillery shells.

This suburb was a place for professionals seeking more space than they might find in the city centre. A haven for families on the fringe of a bustling capital city.

But now the name of Bucha is testament to Putin’s barbarity – another unwanted reminder of man’s potential for evil in a conflict that has already thrown up too many uncomfortable parallels with the Second World War.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, said the scenes emerging from towns in the Kyiv region exposed a ‘post-apocalyptic picture’ of life under Russian occupation that he likened to a horror film.

Putin believed he would rapidly crush Ukraine. One mayor told me their battlefield souvenirs include bottles of vodka with a special label for airborne forces ‘to drink for their victory’ along with ceremonial uniforms and orchestral instruments for a planned triumphant parade in Kyiv.

Plans are also circulating of Russian preparations for mass graves containing up to 1,000 bodies, covered in chemicals and then driven down into the earth by bulldozers.

Instead Russia’s military machine was forced back, leaving the Kremlin to bleat pathetically that Ukraine is spreading fake images for the Western media relying on actors pretending to be dead.

Moscow claims that during the time Bucha was under its control, no civilians suffered and no civilian buildings were destroyed – just as they deny targeting innocent people in the hell of explosions raining down in the port of Mariupol.

But only the most deluded fellow travellers in the free world will be fooled. Human Rights Watch said yesterday that it has documented allegations of Russian war crimes that include ‘repeated rape’ and ‘summary executions’.

In Bucha, it says, a man was seen being shot in the back of his head by the side of a road. In a town close to Chernihiv, six men were rounded up and executed by Putin’s goons.

In a village near Kharkiv, there is evidence that a woman was repeatedly raped in the school where she sought shelter.

‘The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,’ said Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia director. ‘Rape, murder and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes.’

He is right, of course. These are crimes against humanity and war crimes of the highest magnitude. Yet so was the very act of invasion when Putin sent his troops over the border of a sovereign nation on the basis of risible claims about ‘denazification’.

Never forget he unleashed this war supposedly to liberate his brothers and sisters in the Russky Mir (‘Russian World’) that he claimed were victims of a fascist coup – although in reality, he was terrified of a vibrant democracy emerging on his doorstep in case it fuelled dissent among his own repressed citizens.

These pictures demonstrate again how Putin has turned his nation into a pariah state – and deserves to be in the dock facing charges of war crimes before swapping his £10,000 puffer jacket for a set of prison fatigues.

Clearly Russia’s troops are carrying out atrocities – yet ultimately, all the deaths, destroyed cities, raped women and slaughtered children can be blamed on one man: the killer in the Kremlin who launched this unwanted war.

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