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Zelensky, on Bucha anniversary, vows to defeat ‘Russian evil’

Bucha has become a symbol of alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine
Bucha has become a symbol of alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine - Copyright AFP Dimitar DILKOFF
Bucha has become a symbol of alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine - Copyright AFP Dimitar DILKOFF
Emmanuel PEUCHOT

President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed to defeat Russia on Friday speaking alongside European leaders in Bucha one year after Moscow’s troops withdrew from the Ukrainian town synonymous with war crimes allegations.

Belarus strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, who is a close ally of the Kremlin, meanwhile urged Moscow and Kyiv to broker a “truce” in Ukraine and start negotiations.

In Geneva, UN rights chief Volker Turk warned Russia’s war in Ukraine had made severe rights violations “shockingly routine” and was distracting humanity from battling existential threats to its survival.

Russian forces pulled back from Bucha, a commuter town northwest of Kyiv, on March 31, 2022, just over a month after President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

AFP journalists on April 2 last year discovered the bodies of at least 20 people in civilian clothing, some with their hands tied behind their backs, lying in a street of the suburb.

“The battle for the foundation of the free world is taking place on Ukrainian land. We will definitely win. Russian evil will fall, right here in Ukraine,” Zelensky said.

He earlier called Bucha “a symbol of the atrocities” committed by Russia’s forces, who have been linked to the extra-judicial killings of unarmed civilians in Bucha.

“We will never forgive. We will punish every perpetrator,” Zelensky said in a statement on social media.

– Calls for ‘justice’ –

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian troops of war crimes after the discoveries, pointing to an abundance of footage and witness accounts.

Prosecutors in Kyiv say that Russian forces killed some 1,400 civilians around Bucha and that they have identified dozens of Russian soldiers responsible.

Moscow denies the accusations, claiming the atrocities in Bucha were staged.

Speaking alongside Zelensky in Bucha, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu said those responsible should be held accountable, adding that “without justice there can never be peace”.

Leaders from Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia were also in Bucha.

After Russia withdrew from the towns near Kyiv, fighting shifted to the south and east of Ukraine. The town of Bakhmut is now the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle since the invasion.

A year after it was retaken by Kyiv’s forces, Bucha has not forgotten its victims.

The community is rebuilding, and locals told AFP that “the pain subsides” and that they must “continue to live”.

AFP on Thursday saw dozens of construction workers weaving between diggers and trucks as they worked to rebuild homes and roads in the town, which had a population of around 37,000 people before the war.

– ‘Crime scene’ –

Archpriest Andriy, who runs the local parish, said it is “important” not to forget those who are “not with us today”.

“It is also important for us not to live in the past but in the future,” he told AFP.

In the weeks following Russia’s withdrawal from other towns near Kyiv, hundreds more bodies were found in homes, basements and shallow graves across the north.

Ukraine wants to establish a special tribunal to prosecute Russia’s leaders but there are complex legal disputes over how it could work.

The International Criminal Court this month issued an arrest warrant for Putin over the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine.

Chief ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has described Ukraine as a “crime scene”.

Russia has repeatedly denied any abuses by its forces, and foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova this week described scenes in Bucha as a “crude and cynical provocation” by Kyiv.

Lukashenko, who hosted several rounds of failed peace talks in recent years with Russia and Ukraine, made the call for a halt to fighting during an address to the nation on Friday.

– ‘Strategic’ nukes –

“All territorial, reconstruction, security and other issues can and should be settled at the negotiation table, without preconditions,” he said.

Lukashenko has been hit with Western sanctions for allowing Russian forces to attack Ukraine using his country as a base, but so far, he has not dispatched his own forces over the border.

The proposal was immediately rejected by Moscow.

Lukashenko also said he was ready to host “strategic” Russian nuclear weapons after Putin announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in the ex-Soviet country.

“Nothing is changing in the context of Ukraine,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “The special military operation is continuing, since this is the only way to achieve the goals that our country has today.”

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Turk denounced horrific abuses carried out since Russia’s invasion and warned the conflict “continues to send shock-waves across the world.”

“At a time when humanity faces overwhelming existential challenges, this destructive war is tugging us away from the work of building solutions, the work of ensuring our survival,” Turk said.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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