The body of one of the slain men was recovered from a burned-out car shortly after Russian forces took control of the area just north of Kyiv and buried on March 8, 2022, officials said. The other two men appeared to have been shot around the same time.
Andriy Nebytov, police chief for the Kyiv region, where Bucha is located, said that civilians at times have been reluctant to report incidents of violence they witnessed, even long after the Russian forces who carried them out retreated in defeat.
“It is difficult to evaluate the actions of people who have experienced such fear,” Nebytov told reporters at the site. “Russians killed and destroyed in front of their eyes, then [residents] buried these people.”
Nebytov said that officials would attempt to identify the men, potentially using DNA.
The exhumed corpses of the men, who appeared to be dressed in civilian clothing, were placed in black plastic bags close to where they were initially buried. A dirt-caked Nike sneaker sat next to one of the bodies.
The discovery came shortly after Ukraine marked the first anniversary of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, which initially sought to topple the Ukrainian government and capture the capital Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to fight on and recapture all Russian-controlled areas, which now represent roughly a fifth of Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
As Kremlin troops struggled to push into Kyiv in the early weeks of the war, the city of Bucha and its surrounding district, including Borodyanka, were occupied by the invaders and became a staging ground for Russian forces.
When they withdrew more than a month later, the world was shocked by the evidence of acute human suffering, with bodies strewn on the street or stuffed in wells, and elderly people slain in violent attacks. Many victims appeared to have been summarily executed.
The grisly scenes in Bucha and surrounding towns galvanized global support for Ukraine’s and hardened Ukrainian opposition to making any concessions to Putin.
While many Bucha residents fled before Russians arrived in late February 2022, officials later estimated that one-tenth of those who remained were dead by the time of Russia’s withdrawal.
In Bucha itself, it took authorities until late summer to reach what they believed was a final accounting of those killed, the vast majority of which showed signs of being tortured, shot or beaten to death.
Across Ukraine over the past 12 months, at least 8,000 civilians have been confirmed killed, and 13,000 wounded, according to the United Nations. But officials acknowledge the true toll may be much higher.
Ukraine and its backers in the West are now attempting to advance a multilayered effort to hold Russian leaders and military officials accountable for their actions in Ukraine, including in local courts and potentially at the International Criminal Court. But that effort faces multiple challenges, including the slow pace of wartime justice and Russia’s ability to block judicial initiatives at the United Nations.
According to Nebytov, residents like the man who buried the three victims in Borodyanka were “bearers of valuable information,” whose testimony could prove crucial in punishing Russia for what its troops did in Ukraine.
One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine
Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.
Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.
A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law preventing fighting-age men from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about how to balance safety, duty and love, with once-intertwined lives having become unrecognizable. Here’s what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.
Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.