Atrocities are piling up across Ukraine. CNN witnessed some of the horrors.


This story contains graphic images.

As Ukrainians reclaim areas previously occupied by Russian invaders, evidence of the horrors of recent weeks is emerging from the rubble of destroyed villages and towns. New victims are discovered daily. And those lucky enough to survive the ordeal tell harrowing stories of kidnapping, rape and torture.

Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s attorney general, said Monday that her office was investigating 5,800 cases of alleged Russian war crimes, with “more and more” cases being opened every day.

Russia has denied war crimes allegations and says its forces do not target civilians. But CNN reporters on the ground in Ukraine have seen direct evidence of atrocities in multiple locations across the country.

Here’s what we saw.

From Clarissa Ward to Staryi Bykiv

Novyi and Staryi Bykiv are two tiny dots on the map, separated by a small stream. Together, they form a sleepy community of around 2,000 people that few Ukrainians – let alone the Russian military – know.

Katerina Andrusha told me that’s why her daughter Victoria decided to leave her flat in the kyiv suburb of Brovary and come back here at the start of the war; she thought it would be safer at home.

But on February 27, residents say Russian forces arrived in nearby villages, made the local school their base, vandalized and looted homes and terrorized residents for five weeks.

On March 25, Katerina said Russian soldiers came to her house and took Victoria away, saying she had information about their forces on her phone.

Three days later, Katerina herself was captured. She said she was detained in a cellar for three days. Blindfolded and terrified, she attempted to find out what had happened to her daughter.

“They told me she was in a warm home and working with them and would be home soon,” Katerina said.

She said she hadn’t seen Victoria since. As she spoke to us, Katerina’s gaze shot up to the sky in disbelief. She showed us pictures of her daughter, a beautiful teacher.

“We’re hoping she gets in touch with someone, somewhere,” she said.

A few blocks away, we met another mother. Olga Yavon’s pain was raw and consuming. She knew why we were there and the moment she came out to greet us she burst into tears.

Her boys, Igor, 32, and Oleg, 33, are among six young men from the village who authorities say were executed by Russian soldiers on February 27.

She told us that Russian forces rounded them up after a nearby bridge blew up.

The Russians held their bodies for nine days before dumping them on the outskirts of the village, with instructions to bury them quickly, she said.

“They were very good boys,” Olga said. “How I long to see them again.”

Relatives mourn outside the mass grave of civilians killed during the Russian occupation in Bucha, on the outskirts of kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, April 8, 2022.

From Fred Pleitgen to Bucha

I’ve seen a lot of horrible things in my career, but some of the things we faced on the outskirts of Kyiv after Russian troops were pushed back by Ukrainian forces were some of the most heartbreaking.

In the suburb of Bucha, we were among the first to reach a mass grave that locals dug while the place was under Russian occupation because so many people had been killed and longer funeral ceremonies would have been too dangerous amid gunfire and shelling.
We saw half-buried bodies, legs and arms sticking out of the ground. We met a man who was sure his little brother was buried here; he collapsed and couldn’t stop crying. The neighbor who comforted him was also in tears.

These moments of grief are hard to see – they also make you want to cry.

Also in Bucha, we were taken to a basement where five bodies had been found – the Ukrainians say the men had been executed by Russian troops. Some had their hands tied and gunshot wounds to the head or heart.

You could still see the horror on their faces. It seemed that the dead wanted the truth of their violent death to be uncovered.

No matter how many bodies you see, you never forget a single one.

A man lays flowers in front of a memorial at Kramatorsk station.

From Ben Wedeman to Kramatorsk

At 10.30am last Friday, as many as 4,000 people in and around Kramatorsk station were waiting to be evacuated when a missile exploded overhead, raining down bits of metal. Shrapnel ripped through the crowd, largely made up of women, children and the elderly. The latest toll is more than 50 dead, with more than 100 injured.
When we visited the station 48 hours after the explosion, we found the hall still stained with blood, littered with the scattered belongings of the dead and injured.

On one platform we found a large pool of clotted blood in a shrapnel impact point with several false teeth nearby. Someone, probably an elderly person, must have been beaten and killed there.

City officials believe Kramatorsk could be surrounded, besieged and pulverized by Russian forces if and when the long-awaited offensive in the east gains momentum.

The mayor had urged residents to leave, and before Friday’s strike, around 8,000 people a day were boarding westbound trains. The evacuation effort had been publicly announced, with residents of surrounding towns and villages told to gather at Kramatorsk railway station, which was the main regional hub. There was nothing secret in that.

Russia has denied targeting the station, saying the missile – a Tochka-U – is no longer in use by Russian forces and alleging it was a Ukrainian missile that hit the station. Military analysts reject the claim.

Part of the missile crashed into a small park in front of the station. Someone somewhere wrote on it in Russian “for children”.

Although the marking and writing of slogans on missiles, bombs and shells is a very old tradition, the intended message is not certain.

Volunteers pick up the body of a shot dead man from his car in Borodyanka.  They say he was carrying medical supplies.

From Vasco Cotovio to Borodianka

The worst thing I have seen since arriving in Kyiv nearly a month ago is said to be the body of a man that we were shown in a backyard in Borodianka, northwest of Kyiv.

We were taken to the site by the owner of the house, who had fled the city in the early days of the war. She returned as the invading troops retreated, only to find her home had been ransacked by Russian soldiers.

Behind her garden shed, she showed us a man, with a bag over his head, his hands tied behind his back and his pants pulled down, exposing his underwear and his badly bruised leg. He had a bullet wound to the head and a single casing still lay next to his body.

He appears to have been tortured and executed by Russian soldiers, although we don’t know for sure what happened to him.

By this time, we had already seen Bucha’s now infamous mass grave, but the image of this man stuck with me – I find the individual more relatable than the collective. It is easier to compartmentalize, to dissociate a group from the humanity from which it has been despoiled.

A man is lying on the ground with his hands tied behind his back, a bullet wound to his head and a bullet casing next to his body.

I can’t stop thinking about this man and who he could have been.

Did he suffer? Did he have a family? What were his ambitions? What brought him to this garden? Did he retaliate, did he protest against the Russian occupation? What if it had been me – or my brother, who was living in kyiv when the invasion started?

This man is an atrocity too many.

And then you realize that there are countless more, still waiting to be found, under rubble, in a shallow grave or in someone else’s garden.


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