With Kyiv ‘s skyline on the horizon, dazzling Bucha, the green town reached by many Ukrainians moving from the capital, opens up in front of us on a bright Sunday.
A place where one can live a happy life. That’s your feeling when you drive across Bucha, or walk across the streets of Zhytomyr, or take a tour around sunny Malyn, Irpyn…
Yet places that – since this spring – were turned into theaters of death.
Those who think the Russians hit people living in misery and despair are completely on a wrong path. Freedom, peace, and – why not – wealth, that’s what makes up the life of a country that grows into a modern democracy.
We enter the hall of a public centre in Bucha with a group of victims that decided to apply to international courts, Natalya Efimovych from the City Council has made the event possible and is with us. The hours pass in the blink of an eye through speeches, questions, translations, and forms for international tribunals. The next day a handful of other victims in Zhytomyr and Malyn is met.
Mayors Sergiy Sukhomlyn and Olexander Sytaylo, respectively of Zhytomyr and Malyn, also decided to file for bombed schools and cultural centres. They are working around the clock to secure a future for their communities, they thank us, they say friends show what they are in the hard times. Some of the victims break in tears. Some still look for an answer. Why am I alive after watching my family being wiped away? Three generations wiped by a bomb, all of them.
Olexiy has an answer: ‘we need to do everything we can to let the whole world know the truth about the crimes committed by the Russians and make sure it never forgets about them’.
It’s hard to answer, yet these persons gather their last strength and sign the form, they want justice. Justice is what keeps them humming.
Vitaly from Bucha takes us through the neighborhoods, the Russians got around with their tankers shooting random at buildings with grenade launchers during the occupation, the signs of nonsensical destruction are everywhere.
They held the population under continuous threat, depriving people of basic facilities. Getting out of home was enough to be shot dead. The husband of one of the victims was killed just for walking on the streets. Dogs were not spared. A family of victims had to live in the basement, with diabetes and no medicines. Losing your property, the savings of a whole life, as a result of untargeted strikes or shooting, often accompanied the loss of your next-in-kins.
Those who could not move away from Bucha, in some cases fared better than the others. A man, who was forced by the circumstances to move with the family, one day set off with his car, unarmed, driving through the city. He woke up in a hospital bed, somebody saved his life, the car was shot at and destroyed by a BMD tanker, his leg gone. His wife and sons travelled with him in the car.
He stands in the first row listening to us speaking about international courts. His story went public with the help of many fellow citizens of Bucha sharing his tragedy, hoping that the world started to realize Bucha massacre was real.
The Russian occupation of Bucha lasted for one month, then Kyiv held, the javelin rockets defeated the Russian tanks, they were forced to withdraw from the North to refocus on the East and South of Ukraine.
Immediately after Russia’s withdrawal from the North, the images of destruction and despair spread globally. When the shore was laid bare, the dirt came out to tell the stories of horror.
Stories that must be believed and never forgotten, reminding us all that the road is long to turn human rights from a lucky circumstance, that may last for some time in some places of the world, into a stable global achievement.
About the authors:
Achille Campagna and Olexiy Yasyunetsky are leading a coordinated international effort to assist the Ukrainian victims of core international crimes. Achille is a lawyer on the list of counsels at the International Criminal Court, senior legal advisor for Agenfor International, member of LEAP – Fair Trials International. Olexiy is a Ukrainian war crimes and civil rights lawyer with offices in Zhytomyr. Achille and Olexiy held meetings with the victims in Bucha, Zhytomyr, and Malyn during Achille’s visit from July 9 to 12, 2022, their work started before, after Russia withdrew from the North.