Hundreds of civilians massacred. Women raped, unarmed men killed with their hands tied behind their backs, dogs shot, houses looted, children scared to death.
Much has already been reported about Russia’s massacre in Bucha and many other towns. Much more reflection is to come. For now, I’ll try and offer some quick context to my non-Ukrainian friends.
1) This was part of a general pattern, not an exception. The tactics of targeting civilians have a long and infamous history in Putin’s Russia.
I’ve just read a report by Human Rights Watch from 22 years ago about similar atrocities in Chechnya. Sixty Chechen civilians were massacred in the Grozny suburb of Aldi in February 2000, with reports of “widespread killing, arson, rape and looting.” It took decades for other countries to notice.
2) At the same time, it’s not just “Putin’s war”. Putin gave an order to invade Ukraine, but it wasn’t Putin who looted food from Bucha homes or raped women in Mariupol and Kharkiv. It isn’t Putin who launches rockets that hit Ukrainian cities or operates artillery that indiscriminately targets soldiers and civilians alike.
Thousands of Russian soldiers are directly implicated in killing, raping and looting. Millions of Russians are liable for supporting the war.
3) There are still many Ukrainian cities under Russian control — and the extent of atrocities isn’t fully visible yet. We have a lot of evidence from Bucha thanks to it being liberated, we have photos from Mariupol thanks to brave journalists and locals. But many new stories will emerge in the coming weeks and months.
4) However, many Ukrainian cities are lucky to have been spared this fate. This would have been the case throughout Ukraine had Russia managed to capture the country in a few days, as it planned and many Western analysts predicted. Of course, millions of Ukrainians would oppose Russian rule in this case (though Putin underestimated how many & how fiercely) — so instilling fear through horrific abuse would be one of the tactics to squash resistance.
Before the invasion, Russia reportedly drew killing lists of “prominent political opponents… journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.”
So, Ukraine is fighting for democratic values, for the right to determine its own fate — but also for the lives of innocent people.
5) Ukraine has received a lot of support from the West — but more is needed to stop the bloody aggression and save many more innocent people who could be the target. What is both realistic and urgent in terms of support is more & more powerful weapons — and more severe restrictions on Russia’s economy.
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