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Ukraine files first war crimes charges against Russia over Bucha killings

Ukrainian authorities filed criminal charges Thursday against Russian soldiers allegedly involved in mass killings in Bucha — the first time the country has officially brought a case of war crimes against Moscow’s forces.

Ukraine’s Chief Prosecutor Iryna Venediktova said in a Facebook post that she had filed charges against 10 Russian soldiers in the 64th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade. “In a very short investigation, the prosecution established that during the occupation of Bucha they took unarmed civilians as prisoners, starved them and tortured them,” she wrote, while also accusing the soldiers of robbing local residents.

Venediktova also alleged the soldiers had tied residents up, hit them with rifle butts and threatened to kill them.

After Russian troops withdrew from Bucha, a town outside of Kyiv, authorities discovered roads lined with the corpses of civilians apparently tied up and shot at close range, as well as mass graves of local residents. Ukrainian officials have said that more than 350 civilians were killed in the town of roughly 30,000 people. POLITICO could not independently verify the allegations.

Russia has repeatedly denied it was responsible, but numerous media outlets have independently shown that it was unlikely the scenes were staged by Ukraine. Moscow has called the scenes in Bucha “provocations” staged by the Ukrainians, while Russian President Vladimir Putin branded the killings “fake.”

The charges were pressed domestically and any trials of Russian soldiers will take place in Ukraine, which means Kyiv authorities could at a later date issue international arrest warrants against the men.

Earlier this month, Putin himself greeted soldiers from the 64th Brigade and conferred the honorary title of “Guards” on them. Venediktova argued the ceremony was “proof that the Bucha atrocities were a task they managed from above.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres — who is on a trip to Ukraine two days after he met with Putin in the Kremlin — backed calls for an independent investigation into the killings at Bucha.

“When we visit this horrendous site, it makes me feel how important it is [to have] a thorough investigation and accountability,” he said. “I am glad that International Criminal Court is [aware] of the situation … and I appeal to the Russian Federation to accept to cooperate with the International Criminal Court. “

Bucha city council did not immediately respond to requests for comment from POLITICO.

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