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Russia-Ukraine war: catch up on this week’s must-read news and analysis | Ukraine


Every week we wrap up the must-reads from our coverage of the Ukraine war, from news and features to analysis, visual guides and opinion.

‘Why did they do this to us?’ A dispatch from Bucha

On Monday, Daniel Boffey visited the devastated town of Bucha, speaking to the residents of blighted Vokzal’na Street as they emerged from their hideouts after Russian forces retreated.

“We were in our cellar the whole time,” says Serhiy Savenko, 43, who lives with his mother, Larisa, 72, at No 35. “The Russians set up their weapons and a fire in the front garden. One came down to the cellar and saw us. He said to be quiet. He said he was a nice guy but his colleagues would get us on our knees and shoot us. They took our phones and said ‘no fires’, as if we could make some sort of signal.”

Zinaida, 62, lives at No 31, and has been in her cellar since 5 March. She faces the prospect of telling her daughter that her husband is dead, killed by soldiers after going to pick up some items up from a neighbour’s house. “He walked just 20 metres from the house and the Russians killed him. No warning, no reason … How can I tell them?”

If you want to read more about Bucha, journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk has written about how the atrocities there have changed the way Ukrainians look at the war.

A woman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Sunday
A woman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on Sunday. Photograph: Rodrigo Abd/AP

In the ruined town of Trostianets, one of the first to fall

Shaun Walker visited the spa town of Trostianets on Tuesday, one of the very first places to fall into Russian hands when Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. There he found evidence of summary executions, torture and systematic looting during a month of occupation. Yet residents described an initial sense of guilt among Russian soldiers. “We were scared of them, but after a while we started pitying them. They had dirty faces, they stank and they looked completely lost,” says Yana Lugovets, who spent a month sleeping in the basement with her husband, daughter and friends. She said a soldier who had come to search the house they were staying in left without completing the task, his eyes filled with shame as her daughter cried out in fear at the intruder.

Daria Sasina said soldiers who had broken into the beauty salon she ran were apologetic, saying: “Listen, I’m sorry. We didn’t know it would be like this.” However, after the Ukrainian army called in strikes, the Russians became more and more angry.

Destroyed Russian military equipment in Trostianets, in Ukraine’s Sumy region
Destroyed Russian military equipment in Trostianets, in Ukraine’s Sumy region. Photograph: Anastasia Taylor-Lind/The Guardian

When rape is used as a weapon

Investigators are uncovering the scale of sexual violence committed in Ukraine, including gang-rapes, assaults at gunpoint, and rapes committed in front of children, writes Bethan McKernan in Lviv.

Rape and sexual assault are considered war crimes, and both Ukraine’s prosecutor general and the international criminal court have said they will open investigations.

“Every break between curfew and bombing I was looking for emergency contraception instead of a basic first aid kit,” said Antonina Medvedchuk in Kyiv, who woke up to the sound of bombing on the day the war broke out. “My mother tried to reassure me: ‘This is not a war like that, they don’t exist any more, they are from old movies.’”

Local authorities and organisations have been distributing medical, legal and psychological support and trying to find safe shelters for women and girls fleeing both the war and domestic violence. But the fighting has hampered the effort. “We have had several calls to our emergency hotline from women and girls seeking assistance, but in most cases it’s been impossible to help them physically. We haven’t been able to reach them because of the fighting,” said Kateryna Cherepakha, the president of charity La Strada Ukraine.

A woman walks in front of destroyed buildings in the town of Borodyanka
A woman walks in front of destroyed buildings in the town of Borodyanka. Photograph: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

Could Putin be prosecuted for war crimes?

After Joe Biden called for the prosecution of Vladimir Putin for war crimes following the discovery in Bucha of mass graves and bodies of bound civilians shot at close range, David Smith explained that bringing the Russian president to trial would be far from simple.

The US, China, Russia and Ukraine are not members of the international criminal court, but dozens of prominent lawyers and politicians, including the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, and the former British prime minister Gordon Brown, have launched a campaign to create a special tribunal to try Russia for the crime of aggression in Ukraine.

Models include the tribunals set up to prosecute war crimes committed during the Balkan wars in the early 1990s and during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Even if it does go ahead, prosecution could take many years.

People in Sofia demonstrate holding Ukraine’s national flag during a march in support of Ukraine
People in Sofia demonstrate holding the Ukrainian national flag during a march in support of Ukraine. Photograph: Belish/Rex/Shutterstock

The man who swam to safety from Mariupol

On Thursday, Luke Harding in Lviv reported on the extraordinary story of Dmitry Yurin, a man who witnessed the bombing of the Drama Theatre in Mariupol and decided that he had to escape the city by any means necessary.

“It was terrible, a massive blast, an enormous explosion. I heard cries and screams,” Yurin said. “I saw bodies and bits of bodies. I pulled one woman out, then a girl, and then a boy. All were hurt. The boy’s legs didn’t move. He was screaming. My hands were shaking. I was covered in blood.”

Yurin’s plan involved wading into the frigid sea of Azov with four five-litre plastic bottles, for use as buoyancy aids, and swimming for two-and-a-half hours. His remarkable journey took him to the village of Melekine, where he staggered out of the sea and was rescued by an elderly couple who gave him vodka and borscht.

Dmitry Yurin escaped from Mariupol by swimming
Dmitry Yurin escaped from Mariupol by swimming. Photograph: Luke Harding/The Guardian

Can western arms turn the tide?

Dan Sabbagh examines how Nato countries have been gradually stepping up their supply of weapons to Kyiv as the war in Ukraine enters a new phase and asks if the gradual escalation in arms deliveries can avoid a Russian retaliation and turn the tide on the battlefield.

The next phase of the war – which could yet be decisive – is expected to unfold in the Donbas in the next month as Russian forces seek to capture Mariupol, create a land bridge to Crimea, expand the area of occupation in the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Luhansk – and perhaps encircle Ukraine’s main fighting force ranged against it. It is a struggle that will unfold over the course of April, but it is probably not until the end of April that a clearer picture will emerge of the revised military balance.

Meanwhile, the west’s aims are becoming less clear. Is the goal to allow Ukraine to force the Kremlin into peace talks – or try to inflict a more heavy defeat that would risk provoking an unpredictable Russian president?

Our visual guide to the invasion is updated regularly and can be found here.


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