(Bucha and Moscow) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed on Friday to defeat the “Russian evil” on the first anniversary of the Russian withdrawal from Bucha, a martyred city that has become a crying symbol of “the atrocities” attributed to Moscow troops.
“We will win for sure, the Russian evil will fall, right here in Ukraine and will not be able to rise again”, hammered President Zelensky in front of the Croatian Prime Ministers Andrej Plenkovic, Slovak Eduard Heger, Slovenian Robert Golob and the President of Moldova Maia Sandu.
For his part, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russia’s only ally in Europe, called for an “unconditional” truce and negotiations to end the war, while holding the West responsible for the conflict. Reacting to this proposal, the Kremlin ruled out stopping its “military operation” in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president had previously vowed to “punish all culprits” of the Butcha massacre.
On March 31, 2022, the Russian army withdrew from this city and all of northern Kyiv, a month after launching the invasion of the country on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. Two days after the withdrawal, the massacre was known.
AFP journalists discovered in Boutcha on April 2 charred carcasses of vehicles, destroyed houses and above all, scattered over several hundred meters, the bodies of 20 men in civilian clothes, one of whom had his hands tied in the back.
These scenes shocked the whole world, Kyiv and Westerners denouncing summary executions of civilians and war crimes. The Kremlin denies him any involvement and evokes a staging.
During his visit to the site two days after the discovery, the visibly upset President Zelensky denounced “war crimes” which will be “recognized by the world as genocide”.
Since then, a host of foreign leaders who have visited Ukraine have made a detour to visit Boutcha.
A year after the liberation of Boutcha, Kyiv estimates that “more than 1,400” civilians died in the Boutcha district during the Russian occupation, including 637 in the city itself.
AFP journalists observed Thursday reconstruction work in this peaceful suburb which had 37,000 inhabitants before the war.
Dozens of building craftsmen are busy amidst diggers, backhoe loaders and dump trucks, to rebuild the houses and redo the road.
If the trauma remains present, residents interviewed by AFP recognized that the “pain lessens” because we must “continue to live”.
While he does not want to forget the dead, Archpriest Andriï, who manages the local parish, stresses that it is important “not to live in the past, but in the future”.
“Not only must we win, we must defeat the occupiers… We must condemn the criminals, punish the evil,” he said.
Russian forces have been accused of multiple abuses by Ukrainian authorities after the discovery of hundreds of bodies in Boutcha and other towns, graves near Izium (East) or “torture rooms” in recaptured towns, according to Kiev.
The International Criminal Court in March issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin for the “deportation” of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Kyiv, for its part, insists on the creation of a special tribunal to try the highest Russian officials.
Russia continues to deny any abuse by its forces.
On the front, the fighting is still raging above all in the East, around Bakhmout, which the Russians have been trying to take for months at the cost of considerable losses and destruction.
Kyiv admitted on Thursday that it now controls only a third, but hopes that the damage inflicted on Moscow’s forces will be such that Russian lines will be weakened when the Ukrainian army launches the counter-offensive it is preparing, in the waiting for new western weapons.
The Belarusian president, who lent Russia his territory to invade Ukraine, wanted to pose as a peacemaker on Friday, calling on the belligerents for negotiations and a truce.
“It is possible – and it must be – to settle all territorial, reconstruction, security and other issues at the negotiating table without preconditions”, he hammered, during an address to the nation.
Today, Moscow believes that the conflict can only end if Kyiv gives in to its demands, in particular the annexation of five regions. For their part, the Ukrainians insist that the prerequisite for peace is the withdrawal of Russian forces from their territory, without exception.
Mr. Lukashenko, who holds the West and Ukraine responsible for the conflict, said he feared a “nuclear” war, while he agreed to the deployment of Russian “tactical” nuclear weapons in Belarus.
“Because of the United States and its satellites, an all-out war has been unleashed,” he said, saying “nuclear fires loom on the horizon.”