The tension between Russia and Ukraine is at an all-time high. The war has not just distorted the named states but has been having an adverse effect on the whole globe. While Russia has received a lot of backlash and global uproar for its extensive violation of human rights, Ukraine has been poured with global aid, rehabilitation programs, refugee statuses, and even manpower from the US (retired army soldiers) and many other nearby states. Russia under Putin, a fascist country whose whole intent is to re-group the states which were dismantled during the USSR and NATO breakup has been under extreme scrutiny and microscopic observation for its actions. The US, UK, and even Canada have bombarded Russia with sanctions, restraining trade and business practices with the other superpowers. The countries have also frozen their assets and even seized the resources of those states that have invariably pledged their allegiance to Putin and Russia in its entirety. Not giving much heed to these sanctions, as Russia pushes deep into Ukraine, prominent cities like Kyiv (capital of Ukraine), Kharkiv, and Mariupol are staring down the barrel. One such city which experienced the wrath of the Russian army was Bucha which led to the killings of 412 Ukrainian civilians.
Bucha, a town located about 25km to the northwest of the capital, has witnessed yet another massacre after the second world war wherein almost 412 bodies were reported to have been killed by the Russian troops in March 2022. The photographic evidence of the massacre showed corpses of civilians, lined up with their hands bound behind their banks and shot at point-blank range testifying that summary executions had taken place. The satellite images further showed that the dead bodies were left lying in the street for two weeks in their exact locations until they were found by the Ukrainian forces when they regained control of the town. Corpses were also found in a shallow mass grave in a church compound. Officials have also claimed that the children’s sanatorium was used as a ‘torture chamber’ for killing the civilians.
The shocking and disturbing discoveries have immediately drawn comparisons with the killings during World War II. Documenting the history, the reports reflect the timeline between the first and second battle of Kyiv in 1941 and 1943 respectively, when the Red Army started to push back the Germans from Ukraine, the area around the capital city Kyiv, including Bucha, saw the ‘Holocaust by bullets’ wherein an estimated 1.5 million people were shot dead at close range. The operation was so heinous that even the low-ranking Nazi paramilitaries randomly murdered civilians in homes and streets. The instances mirrored the atrocities that resurfaced 80 years later.
Bucha Residents while documenting their miseries to the Human Rights Watch told that Russian soldiers went from door to door, questioning people and looting their possessions. They further submitted that Russian armed vehicles allegedly fired arbitrarily into buildings. The Human Rights Watch in its report recounted a specific incident that highlighted the summary execution of five people being knelt down and shot in the back of the head.
Bucha Killings – Genocide or War Crime
Both expressions have been used freely with reference to the atrocities and mayhem caused in Bucha, Ukraine. However, a proper distinction must be made between the terms concerning the incidents and their sheer gravity of them to ascertain the international community’s obligation to respond to them. While Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of war crimes during the early days of the invasion which saw the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol and a theatre that was used as a shelter for children. Furthermore, President Biden has recapitulated President Putin as a ‘war criminal’ at several public appearances.
Geneva Conventions entails the definition of War Crimes. Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention summarizes war crime as the acts of deliberately targeting civilians and causing serious bodily injury or inhuman torment by way of unlawful confinement or taking up hostages. The International Criminal Court at the Hague has already launched an investigation against the possible crimes committed by Russia. The investigation can even extend to putting Putin under the radar. However, since Russia does not recognize the ICC, it would be very difficult to bring Russian defendants to trial or to even expect them to cooperate with the investigation.
Genocide on the other hand is defined by the United Nations Genocide Convention of December 1948 which includes those acts that are committed with an intent to destroy a national, ethnical, radical, or religious group. Genocide is by far, the gravest and most serious crime against humanity. Gregory Santon, chair of Genocide Watch, has contended that Russia has committed crimes of genocide on various occasions. Stanton remarked that from the definition perspective, President Putin has the intent to destroy a national group (Ukraine), and hence the act of invasion or war and the catastrophe borne by it, is nothing but genocide. However, since genocide is the most serious of all crimes, the international community refrains from using the word as freely as that War Crime, limiting the degree of taking cognizance.
China sides with Russia, calls the photographs a major ‘hoax’
In a surprising unfolding of events, China has rushed to Russia’s defense attesting to the latter’s claims of satellite images released accounting for the horrors at Bucha were a hoax. A Twitter post from a Russian government Twitter handle claimed that its forces withdrew from Bucha on 30th March while the said act of killings and summary executions is believed to have happened on 31st March. Russia has further claimed that the graphics show ‘fake dead bodies’ and was ‘staged’ after the troops left the town. Pro-Russian social media have further circulated a slowed-down version of footage claiming that the said dead bodies showcased minor movements. Another Russian think tank has claimed that the photos do not corroborate with the timings of the troops being in the city. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has further tweeted highlighting the condition of the dead bodies mentioning that the bodies cannot be kept stiffened or tied after four days. Hence the pictures which showcase that the said bodies were left astray ‘tied and stiffened’ for a period of two weeks are highly improbable and unlikely.
It is natural for Russia to rise to its defense against the allegations. It is the conduct of China that has left the world shocked and surprised. Without putting any proof, justification, or clarification forward, Chinese social media accounts and government servers have simply sided with Russia’s claims of the pictures were hoaxed. This campaign by China has not only questioned its credibility regarding the news but has also undercut the country’s effort to present itself as a neutral actor in the war, eager to promote a peaceful resolution. Chinese diplomats have rather become combatants in the informational war, discrediting international concerns and legitimizing Russia’s claims. Though China has had a history of indirectly supporting and parroting President Putin’s claim that he is on a noble cause of fighting a neo-Nazi government in Kyiv. But such sets of sweeping statements in support of Russia has alarmed the whole international community.