Bucha victim: ‘Russian troops beat me, sprayed me with diesel fuel’ | Russo-Ukrainian War

Vinnytsya, Ukraine – In mid-March, two weeks after Russian troops entered Bucha hoping to move further southeast to the Ukrainian capital, kyiv, Viktor was walking home.

Armed soldiers arrested him to verify his identity. They searched his backpack for a bottle of alcohol, a flashlight and his documents.

Then they checked his cell phone.

They came across the Telegram app and scanned the Ukrainian army channel.

Photographs of Russian soldiers and their burnt tanks seemed to upset them, and Viktor thinks they got rid of their anger at him.

(Al Jazeera)

What followed was a series of tortures, said Viktor, who asked Al Jazeera not to give his last name.

Although Al Jazeera could not independently verify its account, it is consistent with a growing body of evidence linking Russian forces to atrocities in Bucha, a town northwest of kyiv, whose name has become synonymous with heartbreaking massacres of civilians.

Due to fierce Ukrainian resistance, Russian troops have been trapped in and around the sleepy suburban town of 37,000, whose proximity to kyiv has sparked a building boom in recent years.

Bucha mass grave
People stand next to a mass grave in Bucha, Ukraine [File: Rodrigo Abd/The Associated Press]

According to survivors, Ukrainian officials, human rights groups and the media, the soldiers turned to indiscriminate, arbitrary and senseless torture and killing of civilians, rape and pillage.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fears around 300 people were killed in the city, a number Viktor says could easily have included him.

“I said that I was a civilian, that I was returning home and that I had not taken part in any military action,” Viktor said in a telephone interview from his neighbor’s house in Bucha.

But the Russians decided not to let him go.

Instead, they took him to one of their headquarters on Yablunska Street, which intersects Bucha and leads to Irpin, another kyiv suburb where massacres of civilians have been reported.

bodies in the street

In early April, dozens of bodies of civilians killed by Russian soldiers were found on Yablunska Street.

Six had their hands tied behind their backs, officials said. Twenty-two others were pulled out of their cars and shot for trying to leave Bucha.

The Kremlin has denied responsibility for the killings, calling the apparent massacre a Ukrainian staged “production” after Russian forces withdrew from Bucha on March 30.

But a New York Times exam Satellite photos and videos of the corpses, including those ‘strewn over more than half a mile’ of Yablunska Street, showed the slain had been there for at least three weeks – the time Viktor was detained and questioned .

He said Russia’s headquarters in Bucha was in a private house with demolished front doors, surrounded by armored vehicles.

An officer there looked at his phone again and looked at the recently erased items. The officer saw a video of a moving Russian column that Viktor had taken when Russian forces entered Bucha in late February, but later deleted.

A woman is seen walking next to the corpses of her husband and brother in Bucha
Ira Gavriluk holds her cat as she walks by the bodies of her husband and brother, who were killed in Bucha [File: Rodrigo Abd/The Associated Press]

A violent beating followed.

The Russian soldiers knocked Viktor to the ground, turned his face to the ground and hit him with a club, breaking his rib and finger.

They kept asking him where the Ukrainian forces were.

But the constant repetition of their questions and indifference to her answers made him think they were simply enjoying his helplessness.

“You understand that nothing depends on you. When they just take you nowhere. Then there’s the anxiety with the hope – maybe they’ll let you go because you’re a civilian. Not a soldier, not a spy,” he said.

“Let’s go set him on fire”

He said the Russian soldiers doused him with a flammable liquid. He immediately recognized the smell – diesel fuel coming from one of their armored vehicles.

“It wasn’t petrol, they only have diesel. They said, “Let’s go set him on fire and send him back to his people,” Viktor said.

“When I was completely exhausted and all covered in blood, they just kicked me down in the basement. You know – boom, and you go down.

He descended the steps into the dark, damp and cold basement of the house, where the previous owners once kept vegetables, smoked meat and glass jars with homemade pickles.

There Viktor was left alone for about 40 minutes, still soaked in blood and diesel fuel – and thinking about the inevitability of death.

ukrainian president
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the media after his visit to Bucha [File: Marko Djurica/Reuters]

He believed that the renewed shelling frightened the interrogators and ultimately saved his life.

“They just hid and that saved me,” he said, describing how he then snuck out of the basement, climbed over a fence and fled home.

“I wasn’t afraid of being torn to pieces, I just had to run,” he said.

Bucha was big enough to hide, and the Russians didn’t look for him even though they had his backpack and documents showing his address.

He ran to his neighbor, where he remained for days, bedridden and covered in bruises.

“His whole body was blue with bruises,” neighbor Oleh Matsenko told Al Jazeera.

Viktor is still there, recovering and barely able to move.

“They gave me a hell of a beating. It still hurts,” he said.

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