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Images out of Bucha are difficult to look at, but it's important not to look away


Russian forces pulled out of some small towns just outside Kyiv. And all that is left is utter devastation. About 90 minutes outside the capital in the town of Bucha, dozens of bodies were found on the streets. Ukrainian officials are calling it a massacre, saying some of the bodies showed signs of torture and execution. Moscow calls the allegations a provocation by Ukraine. I talked to NPR's Nathan Rott, who is in the capital, Kyiv.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Sadly, I think this is just the start, right? These images that we're seeing of bodies that appear to be badly burnt, of bodies that appear to have been tied with their hands behind their back, are going to be the conversation in Ukraine for a while. And so, you know, I think we explained a little of the chronology there. You just did. But I think it's important for people to understand - what is happening is Russian forces invaded these towns north of where I am in Kyiv in the first days of the war. They were stopped by Ukrainian forces. And last week, we started seeing them withdraw from this region altogether. Russia says it's doing this as a gesture of goodwill, as a sign that they're sincere about peace negotiations, though I think it's important to note that they continue to launch missiles at targets here. Now, with Russian troops withdrawn, Ukrainian forces are moving into these suburbs and towns, like Bucha, really, for the first time in weeks. And what they're seeing are these horrifying scenes.

Here's Kyiv's mayor, Vitali Klitschko, who we talked to over the weekend.

VITALI KLITSCHKO: I just came in right now from north of the city. I'm a little bit depressed. What I saw there, old people shoot - civilian, civilian - old, young people, women, shoot by Russian soldier - the bodies everywhere there.

MARTIN: What is Russia saying about this?

ROTT: So Russia is claiming that these images we're seeing are fake. They say Ukraine is deliberately spreading false information. This is something they continue to say through the war. I've talked to people who have been in these towns over the last couple of days. We're planning to go there tomorrow. And, you know, from what I've heard, it is very clear that there are dead people in civilian clothes in these places. Human Rights Watch released a report yesterday detailing multiple incidents that appear to be war crimes. And the sense we're getting is that more reports like this are coming as Ukrainian forces move into other towns.

MARTIN: So there are now all these calls for accountability for this from the international community. What are you hearing in Ukraine?

ROTT: The same, you know, and a lot of frustration. Ukraine has been calling for more military help from the U.S. and other Western allies since before this war started. They want anti-aircraft systems. They want fighter jets. But there's still a sense - you know, and we're hearing that if these images from Bucha, the accounts of what's still happening right now in Kharkiv in the north, in Mariupol in the south, where fighting is ongoing, if they don't move the needle for greater Western involvement, the Ukrainians say it's hard to know what will. I actually just finished talking to a man who is working with the Ukrainian Territorial Defense who believes that there starts to become culpability of Western countries if greater intervention isn't taken.

MARTIN: NPR's Nathan Rott in Kyiv. Thank you.

ROTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.