How Russian Soldiers Ran a “Cleansing” Operation in Ukraine

From an AP story by Erika Kinetz, Oledsandr Stashevskvi, and Vaselisa Stepanenko headlined “How Russian soldiers ran a ‘cleansing’ operation in Bucha”:

BUCHA, Ukraine (AP) — The first man arrived at 7:27 a.m. Russian soldiers covered his head and marched him up the driveway toward a nondescript office building.

Two minutes later, a pleading, gagged voice pierced the morning stillness. Then the merciless reply: “Talk! Talk, f–ing mother-f–er!”

The women and children came later, gripping hastily packed bags, their pet dogs in tow.

It was a cold, gray morning, March 4 in Bucha, Ukraine. Crows cawed. By nightfall, at least nine men would walk to their deaths at 144 Yablunska street, a building complex that Russians turned into a headquarters and the nerve center of violence that would shock the world.

Later, when all the bodies were found strewn along the streets and packed in hasty graves, it would be easy to think the carnage was random. Residents asking how this happened would be told to make their peace, because some questions just don’t have answers.

Yet there was a method to the violence.

What happened that day in Bucha was what Russian soldiers on intercepted phone conversations called “zachistka” — cleansing. The Russians hunted people on lists prepared by their intelligence services and went door to door to identify potential threats. Those who didn’t pass this filtration, including volunteer fighters and civilians suspected of assisting Ukrainian troops, were tortured and executed, surveillance video, audio intercepts and interviews show.

The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline” obtained surveillance camera footage from Bucha that shows, for the first time, what a cleansing operation in Ukraine looks like. This was organized brutality that would be repeated at scale in Russian-occupied territories across Ukraine — a strategy to neutralize resistance and terrorize locals into submission that Russian troops have used in past conflicts, notably Chechnya.

Ukrainian prosecutors now say those responsible for the violence at 144 Yablunska were soldiers from the 76th Guards Airborne Assault Division. They are pursuing the commander, Maj. Gen. Sergei Chubarykin, and his boss, Col. Gen. Alexander Chaiko — a man known for his brutality as leader of Russia’s troops in Syria — for the crime of aggression for waging an illegal war.

Police ended up recovering nearly 40 bodies along Yablunska street alone. Prosecutors have identified 12 around 144 Yablunska; AP reporters documented a 13th body in the stairwell of one of the buildings in the complex, in photos and videos taken on April 3.

Taras Semkiv, Ukraine’s lead prosecutor for the 144 Yablunska street case, told the AP and “Frontline” that it’s unusual to see war crimes play out on video and that the CCTV footage and eyewitness accounts from March 4 are key elements for the prosecution.

“The results of the criminal evidence we’ve gathered so far reveal that it wasn’t just isolated incidents of military personnel making a mistake but a systematic policy targeting the Ukrainian people,” Semkiv said.

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