Bucha massacre, nightmares of Irpin and Hostomel
Before the sun rose on 24 February, people in the Kyiv region woke up to the thundering sounds of Russian artillery and missile strikes. Ukraine was under attack with a brutality not seen since World War 2. The suburban towns outside the capital, the home of commuters, flower gardens, and picturesque parks became the front line of Russia’s bloody advance on Kyiv.
The criminal and inhuman war waged by Russia against Ukraine was underway.
Blossoming beautiful suburbs would be reduced to bloody, smoldering ruins by the Russian army. A nightmare full of burning homes and executed civilians would soon begin. The responsibility for these unspeakable crimes lies on every soldier, every commanding officer, and every representative of the Russian authorities who through action or inaction made them a reality.
The airport in the city of Hostomel (population – 17,000) was one of Russia’s primary targets, as capturing it would allow effective air raids on Kyiv. Irpin (population — 70,000), Bucha (population — 37,000), and smaller nearby towns were chosen by Russia as ideal targets to encircle the capital and to be used as Russian military staging grounds.
From 24 February to 1 April, many towns and villages in the Kyiv region were under attack or occupation by Russian troops. Only at the beginning of April, Ukrainian forces would be able to liberate the region and discover the full extent of the terrible war crimes perpetrated by Russian soldiers.
24 February. Russia starts its brutal war against Ukraine
Ukrainian forces defend Hostomel airport from Russian invaders: Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems shoot down 3 enemy helicopters. A Ukrainian tactical group defends the town from Russian paratroopers.
25 February. Battle for Hostomel
The battle for Hostomel rages on. Russian artillery shells the area. Ukrainian armed forces defeat a column of Russian armored vehicles.
26 February. Russian advance on Kyiv
Ukrainian Armed Forces stop the Russian advance toward the capital near Bucha, inflicting losses on the enemy. Russian troops are still trying to capture Hostomel. Individual groups of Russian soldiers slip into Kyiv, gunfights erupt on the streets. The enemy reconnaissance teams are eventually destroyed, Kyiv is free of invading ground troops.
However, the Hostomel area is still mercilessly bombarded by Russian artillery and missile attacks.
Oleksiy’s wife was killed by Russian shelling in Hostomel. He sits by his wounded daughter’s bedside all day. “God forbid anyone has to live through this. We used to live a completely normal life. My wife and I worked, the kids went to school. Now innocent people are dying. Ukraine needs help.” he says.
27-28 February. Battles for Bucha and Irpin begin
Massive numbers of Russian ground forces, stretched north through the Kyiv region, attempt to advance toward the capital. Irpin is held and defended by the Ukrainian armed forces.
Russian artillery shelling and airstrikes continue in the region, damaging infrastructure and killing civilians. Some locals are able to flee or are evacuated, but thousands remain in their homes, hiding in basements and shelters as the bombs rain down from the sky.
1 March. Bucha and Hostomel occupied by Russian aggressors
The first reports of marauding and robberies start to appear from Bucha and Hostomel, now occupied by Russian invaders. Communication remains difficult due to intense fighting and shelling in the region.
2 March. The Russian army advances closer to Kyiv
Russian aggressors (columns of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and soldiers) continue advancing, and occupying more towns in the region. Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel, and Borodianka remain among the most dangerous areas for civilians due to continued Russian shelling and ground fighting.
The Hostomel airport is liberated by the Ukrainian army. The city remains embattled.
3 March. Bucha temporarily retaken by Ukrainian defenders, humanitarian aid arrives
Ukrainian forces temporarily retake Bucha, establishing the supply of humanitarian aid and evacuating civilians. 6 trucks of food are delivered to Bucha and Irpin. 1500 women and children are evacuated to safer areas. Thousands of locals remain due to logistical difficulties and bombing by Russian artillery, airstrikes, tank and mortar fire.
5 March. Russian occupiers shell Irpin railroad to disrupt the evacuation
Russian occupiers blow up railroad tracks in Irpin, attempting to prevent the evacuation of civilians. Ukrainian soldiers are forced to evacuate people via buses, priority is given to the most vulnerable: women, children, and elderly people.
6 March. Russian attacks against civilians intensify
The aggressor’s troops intensify violence against civilians: they open fire on civilian vehicles trying to flee Irpin. Russian shelling damages city infrastructure, leaving the city without heat. Bucha and Hostomel are occupied by Russian aggressors. Ukrainian authorities try to negotiate a safe evacuation, demanding that the invading forces not target fleeing refugees.
“They couldn’t break down the door, so they threw a grenade down the stairs.” says Mykola from Bucha. His friend Leonid was torn apart by the explosion. The next day, Russian soldiers told him he had 20 minutes to “clean up”. Mykola gathered parts of his friend’s body into a bag and dug what would be his third grave.
7 March. Brutal crackdown on Irpin
Due to intensified Russian shelling, Irpin has been without electricity, water, and heat for nearly three days (since March 5). Russian occupiers forbid local residents to leave their homes.
Reports continue of violence and marauding by Russian forces. Communication from residents of the areas north of Kyiv remains scarce, as Russian soldiers confiscate phones at checkpoints and rob people in their homes.
Humanitarian aid is blocked by Russian ground forces and their artillery shelling.
“…right beside us there’s a small red woman’s car, all shot up, with the word “children” written on it. The body of a woman lies on the steering wheel. Civilian dead bodies on the sidewalk… the occupiers forbade filming the victims, took people’s phones, and this was a direct order “from up high”. They purposefully turned off electricity and communications and then said: ‘where’s the evidence?’ ”.Stan, a coder, remembers his failed attempt at leaving Irpin
9 March. Failed evacuation from Bucha and Hostomel
Ukrainian authorities organize another evacuation corridor from Bucha and Hostomel. Only especially vulnerable citizens can be allowed on board due to limited space: women, children, and the elderly (after the liberation of Bucha, local residents will report that many men aged 16-60 would be executed by Russians to prevent resistance).
Russian occupiers block 50 buses filled with refugees, not allowing them to leave Bucha and Hostomel.
“On a single day, I picked up about 30 bodies — 13 of whom were men whose hands had been tied and who had been shot in the head at close range.”Serhiy Kaplishny, a Bucha coroner
11 March. Attempts to invade the capital continue
Russian forces continue using Bucha as a base of operations, terrorizing local residents, and marauding supplies. An attempt is made by the Russian army to push toward Kyiv once again, but it is repelled by Ukrainian troops.
“I buried her a bit in the night. There was so much shelling, I did not know what to do.”Antonina Pomazanko’s daughter was shot by Russian soldiers as they entered Bucha. She was not able to fully bury her.
12 March. Russia amasses troops and continues killing civilians, Ukrainian evacuation partially successful
The Russian occupying army continues to hold Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel. More Russian armored vehicles and ground troops are piled into the area, contested areas are shelled by Russian artillery: apartment buildings, private homes, and civilian infrastructure are all targeted.
Humanitarian supplies are sent from Kyiv to all towns in the region. But the Russians continue to aggressively prevent any evacuation from Irpin.
1000 people are evacuated from Bucha under heavy Russian fire. Only 600 manage to escape from from Hostomel.
17-21 March. Humanitarian aid to Bucha and Hostomel
Kyiv sends humanitarian aid to Bucha, Hostomel, and neighboring villages: food, water, supplies, and medicine. It is impossible to distribute aid to locals on a larger scale due to the ongoing attacks and marauding by Russian soldiers. The towns are in a state of complete humanitarian disaster. They remain without electricity, water, and heat.
By this point a total of 4750 people have been evacuated from areas under attack in the Kyiv region.
23 March. Ukrainian counterattack, eyewitness reports from Bucha
The Armed Forces of Ukraine move to counterattack the Russian army, encircling Irpin, Bucha, and Hostomel. This is a breaking point in the bloody stalemate. Ukraine is finally able to attempt to liberate its cities from enemy occupation, as Russian forces are failing due to poor logistics and chaotic command.
Eyewitness reports start coming in from people who managed to escape Bucha. They speak of horrible war crimes committed by Russian soldiers: robberies, rape, executions.
Most locals remain in hellish conditions, evicted from their homes by Russian soldiers, forced to live in basements and sheds, with no access to food, water or heat, unable to bury the bodies of murdered family members.
“Getting water — shot, cooking outside on a fire — shot, running down a street — shot. The Russians became more brutal in the final days.”said Olena, Bucha resident.
25 March. Bucha and Irpin named hero-cities
Bucha and Irpin are awarded the status of hero-cities by the President of Ukraine. This is the same status that was awarded to Kyiv and Odesa during WWII due to their heroic defense against the brutal aggression of the Nazi forces.
“I was tied to a metal pole for two days. [The Russians] beat me, asking, ‘Where are the Ukrainian soldiers?’ and ‘Who in town is in the Territorial Defense Force?’’says Vitaly Sinadin, a 45-year-old sculptor from Bucha.
28 March. Irpin is liberated by Ukrainian forces
The Armed Forces of Ukraine liberate Irpin, pushing out the Russian occupiers. Battles around the city had been raging since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion (Feb 24).
1 April. Bucha is liberated by Ukrainian forces
After more than a month of fierce battles in the Kyiv region, Russian occupying forces retreat and the Ukrainian Army is able to liberate the city of Bucha and render aid to local residents.
3 April. Irpin de-mining, aftermath of Russian shelling
Irpin is now fully under the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. But the town is still not safe for the return of people who fled earlier. Local authorities ask refugees not to return until Ukrainian troops have removed the mines spread by retreating Russian troops on roads and in residential areas.
“…the Russian occupiers split families, they took the men and left the women and children… the ones they didn’t like – they shot. A child died, many men died. The cruelest and most inhumane part was when they rode over bodies with tanks… we had to use shovels to peel the bodies off the asphalt.”Oleksandr Markushyn, mayor of Irpin
4 April. President Volodymyr Zelenskyi visits Bucha
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, visits Bucha to see firsthand the devastation and war crimes committed by the Russian army during its occupation. He speaks with local residents and states.
“What’s currently happening in Ukraine is the calculated genocide of the Ukrainian people.”President Zelenskyi
5 April. Aid to locals, burials, and investigations
The Ukrainian Armed Forces and emergency services of the Kyiv region continue to provide humanitarian and medical aid to residents of Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel. Irpin has started to conduct repairs to some of its damaged infrastructure.
Ukrainian authorities begin conducting investigations of evidence of hundreds of war crimes committed by the Russian occupying army: murder, theft, robbery, rape, and more. 410 bodies were recovered on streets, sidewalks, and in mass graves just in Bucha alone. The damage to the city is devastating and immense. Evidence of sexual assault against women and children further highlights the inhuman nature of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
So far, 410 bodies of murdered civilians have been discovered in Bucha alone. Eyewitness accounts and physical evidence tell of deliberate executions and the needless killing of civilians out of wanton cruelty and greed.
This is a breach of not only international and Ukrainian laws but of the very boundaries of humanity and civilization.
Investigations into the brutal, inhuman, mindless, and bloodthirsty war crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine will continue.
The perpetrators of these crimes, from the ones who committed them physically, to those who gave the orders or allowed them through inaction must be punished to the full extent of the law.
Ivan Shovkoplias, сommunications consultant, Ukrainian media volunteer