(Kyiv) President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday hailed Ukrainian resistance against “the greatest force against humanity of our time”, on the first anniversary of the discovery of the bodies of civilians killed in Boutcha, a city that has become a symbol of atrocities committed by the Russians.
Moscow, for its part, has repeatedly denied any involvement and referred to a “staging” of Ukraine and its allies.
This anniversary comes the day after Russia took over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, where it faces Westerners who have ostracized it from nations since the start of its invasion of Ukraine.
“Ukrainian people!” You have stopped the greatest force against humanity of our time. You have stopped a force that despises and wants to destroy everything that matters to people,” President Zelensky said on Telegram.
“We will liberate all our lands. We will put the Ukrainian flag back in all our cities and towns,” he said, as Russia still controls more than 18% of Ukrainian territory.
“We continue the struggle for the independence of our homeland,” said the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, Valery Zalouzhny.
On April 2, 2022, AFP journalists saw the bodies of 20 men in civilian clothes in Boutcha, one of whom had his hands tied behind his back, in addition to charred carcasses of vehicles and destroyed houses.
These scenes had shocked the whole world, Kyiv and Westerners repeatedly denouncing summary executions of civilians and war crimes.
Since then, Butcha has become a symbol of the atrocities attributed to Moscow troops during their occupation of the region.
For Ukrainian ground forces commander Oleksandre Syrsky, the Russians’ forced retreat from the Kyiv region a year ago when they were near the capital was “a strategic victory” at “the base of new successful operations”.
Visibly upset and very moved, Volodymyr Zelensky had denounced “war crimes” which will be “recognized by the world as genocide” after visiting Boutcha a year ago.
Since then, almost all foreign leaders who have visited Ukraine have made a detour to go to Boutcha.
Friday, on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s withdrawal from the Kyiv region, following unexpected Ukrainian resistance, Zelensky said he hoped Boucha would become a “symbol of justice”, vowing to defeat “evil Russian”.
“We will never forgive,” he said, promising to bring “all guilty” Russians to justice.
Ukraine estimates that “more than 1,400” civilians died in the Boutcha district during the Russian occupation, including 37 children. Among them, 637 were killed in the city itself.
The anniversary of the discovery of the bodies of these Ukrainian civilians in the suburbs of Kyiv, after a few weeks of fighting of rare violence, comes as the front, which stretches from eastern to southern Ukraine, has been almost frozen for several months.
The Russians have claimed since the beginning of the year marginal gains, mainly around the city of Bakhmout (Donbass), without however managing to break through the Ukrainian defenses, reinforced by Western armaments. And this, however, at the cost of heavy losses, they conceded.
The Russian army, backed by the paramilitary group Wagner, would like to be able to announce victory on the battlefield, after multiple humiliating setbacks, starting with the retreat from the Kyiv region a year ago.
This was followed by forced withdrawals in the Northeast and East which prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to mobilize hundreds of thousands of reservists, without however reversing the course of the fighting at this stage.
On the ground, the intensity of the fighting has decreased compared to the very beginning of the year, despite the continuation of violent clashes around Bakhmout.
On Sunday, Andrii Iermak, Mr. Zelensky’s chief of staff, said the Russians had “carried out a massive bombardment” on Kostiantynivka, near Bakhmout, killing at least six people and injuring eight.