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As Ukrainians retake areas previously occupied by invading Russian forces, evidence of the horrors of recent weeks is emerging from the rubble of destroyed towns and cities. New victims are discovered every day. And those lucky enough to survive the ordeal tell poignant tales of kidnappings, rapes and torture.
Ukraine’s attorney general Iryna Venediktova said on Monday that her office is investigating 5,800 cases of alleged Russian war crimes, with “more and more” proceedings being opened every day.
Russia has denied war crimes charges and claims its troops are not targeting civilians. But DailyExpertNews journalists on the ground in Ukraine have seen firsthand evidence of atrocities in multiple locations around the country.
This is what we saw.
From Clarissa Ward in staryic Bykiv
Novyi and Staryi Bykiv are two small dots on the map, separated by a stream. Together they make up a sleepy community of about 2,000 people that few Ukrainians — let alone the Russian military — would expect to be known for.
Katerina Andrusha told me that at the beginning of the war her daughter Victoria decided to leave her apartment in the Kiev suburb of Brovary and come back here; she believed home would be safer.
But on February 27, residents say Russian forces invaded neighboring villages, made the local school their base, destroyed and looted homes and terrorized the people here for five weeks.
On March 25, Katerina said that Russian soldiers came to her house and took Victoria, claiming she had information about their troops on her phone.
Three days later, Katerina herself was captured. She said she was held in a basement for three days. Blindfolded and terrified, she tried to find out what had happened to her daughter.
“They told me she was in a warm house and she was working with them and would be home soon,” Katerina said.
She said she hasn’t seen Victoria since. As she spoke to us, Katerina’s gaze wandered to the sky in disbelief. She showed us pictures of her daughter, a beautiful teacher.
“We hope she gets in touch with someone somewhere,” she said.
Just a few blocks away we met another mother. Olga Yavon’s grief was raw and overpowering. She knew why we were there and the moment she came out to greet us she burst into tears.
Her boys, Igor, 32, and Oleg, 33, are among six of the village’s young men who were executed by Russian soldiers on February 27, authorities said.
She told us that Russian troops had rounded them up after a nearby bridge was blown up.
The Russians held their bodies for nine days before dumping them on the outskirts of the village, with instructions to bury them quickly, she said.
“They were very good guys,” Olga said. “How I want to see them again.”
From Fred Pleitgen in Bucha
I have seen many terrible things in my career, but some of the things we faced in the suburbs of Kiev after Russian troops were beaten back by Ukrainian forces were among the most harrowing.
These heartbreak moments are hard to watch – they make you want to cry, too.
You could still see the horror on their faces. It seemed as if the dead wanted the truth about their violent deaths to be revealed.
No matter how many bodies you see, you never forget one.
From Ben Wedeman in Kramatorsk
On a platform, we found a large pool of clotted blood in a shrapnel impact point with several false teeth nearby. Someone, probably an elderly person, must have been hit and killed there.
City officials believe Kramatorsk could be surrounded, besieged and crushed by Russian forces if and when the long-awaited offensive in the east gains momentum.
The mayor had urged residents to leave and about 8,000 people a day were walking westwards ahead of Friday’s strike. The evacuation effort had been publicly announced, urging people from surrounding towns and villages to gather at the railway station in Kramatorsk, which was the main regional hub. There was nothing secret about that.
Part of the rocket crashed into a small park in front of the station. Someone wrote “for the kids” on it somewhere in Russian.
Although tagging and writing slogans on missiles, bombs and grenades is a very old tradition, it is not certain what the intended message was.
From Vasco Cotovio in Borodianka
We were led to the site by the owner of the house, who had fled the city in the early days of the war. She returned as the invading troops withdrew, only to find that her house had been looted by Russian soldiers.
Behind her gazebo, she showed us a man with a bag over his head, his hands tied behind his back and his pants pulled down, exposing his underwear and badly bruised leg. He had a gunshot wound to the head and a single shell casing was still lying next to his body.
He was found to have been tortured and executed by Russian soldiers, although we are not sure what happened to him.
By then we had already seen the now infamous mass grave in Bucha, but the image of that man has stayed with me — I find the individual more recognizable than the collective. It is easier to compartmentalize a group, to disconnect a group from the humanity they have been robbed of.
I keep thinking about that man and who he could have been.
Did he suffer? Did he have a family? What were his ambitions? What led him to that backyard? Did he fight back, protest against the Russian occupation? What if it had been me – or my brother, who was living in Kiev when the invasion started?
This man is one too many.
And then you realize there are countless others, still waiting to be found, under some rubble, in a shallow grave or in someone else’s backyard.