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Monday, May 30, 2022

Defended with Artillery

Death in Bucha's Gray Zone, part 1: Defended with Artillery

May 29, 2022 

(rough, incomplete)

updates June 3 

Mayor Fedoruk on Crisis Response

On April 8, Ukrayinska Pravda's Olga Kirilenko spoke with Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk in an interview (in Ukrainian) that sheds some light on what happened in Bucha during the Russian occupation of March. Kiev's efforts to defend the city's residents from harm failed to stop Russian brutality of all kinds, blamed for taking the lives of some 400 residents. This overlooked interview offers some insights into how that was only inevitable.

Even before the Russians first arrived in Bucha on the 26th or 27th of February, the city leadership and defenses were getting out. As Fedoruk explained, by "the second day of the war" (the 25th - just after the Russians first arrived in Bucha) "district structures - district state administration, military enlistment office, other state bodies left Bucha, went to Belogorodka within the district, where it was safer." These places are a ways to the south - see map below). "The military registration and enlistment office left" as well, he says, "taking the weapons meant for local defenders." Furthermore, "some of our active citizens" who enlisted in the defense "then went to Kapitanivka, then to Belogorodka, some went to the defense of Irpen." 

After all this, Fedoruk says, "we were actually left with the hromada (community) alone." He says "we" because he and some aides remained, from the thwarted Russian advances of late February to their harried retreat the end of March - mostly. "I was in the city during the whole period of occupation - it is my duty as an official and as a citizen," he told Kirilenko.

There was a point when even Fedoruk briefly left Bucha, to about the same safer area the rest fell back to. But in his case, he says, it was only to secure a good food supply for locals who he anticipated would also be doing their "duty" to stay in Bucha, and would need food there ...("the reserves of yeast, margarine, flour were scarce"). Around the end of the month or March 1 or 2 (unclear), he and some staff went to meet the owner of Megamarket in Dmytrivka. to secure said baking supplies. Map: named safe areas in blue, along the E40, past the blown bridge at Stoyanka (see map at bottom of this post), gold stars where Fedoruk twice claimed liberation, cream color for other (approximate) places he says he was.

Fedoruk says he was in Dmytrivka to witness a victorious battle along the E40 on the 3rd, Then he went back to Bucha that same day, he says, despite a Russian occupation that was just then starting (see part 4, forthcoming). He then stayed in Bucha, he says, for the rest of March, through the privations the situation imposed. 

Now about that situation...

Defense Plan: "Bucha is a Gray Zone"

In the Ukrainian Pravda interview, somehow the new Territorial Defense Force is translated "terrorist defense." It's a new phrase, I think: тероборона or Teroborona, combing parts of the words 
territorial (територіальні) and defense (оборони) into one compound word. Fedoruk has this initially absent from Bucha.

- There was a Teroborona in the city, did you create it on the fly? 

- We started creating it before the war. The premises for repairs have just been identified - this is a former military unit. But on the second day of the war, the district structures - the district state administration, the military registration and enlistment office, and other government agencies left Bucha..."

The interesting part:

"I then asked the military if we would have an Armed Forces. It was explained to me that, given Kyiv's defense mission, Bucha is a gray zone. Therefore, the Armed Forces will defend us exclusively with artillery and other similar means to prevent the enemy from crossing the Irpin River."

"Of course, having received this information as a historian by profession, I understood the consequences, but I did not spread it, so as not to cause panic."

- So you already knew then that the city will actually be destroyed?

- [Not quite] destroyed… I understood perfectly well what the gray zone is, given the events in the east of our state." 

The last part refers to the Donbas since 2014, where Ukrainian forces terrorized the locals for declaring independence, regularly launching rockets and missiles on civilians from a distance and then denying it. Fedoruk would challenge that characterization, but either way, he realized Bucha would become a gray zone like Donetsk or Lugansk. 

The interviewer Kirilenko raised an important question: "why, having learned about the city's stay in the "gray zone", you did not begin forced evacuation?" The mayor explained "we wondered how to act. The regional and district leadership said that Russian troops would not enter Bucha." Then he changed the subject. This remains an open question of some importance.

I've been noting the effects of this defense policy at this blog, only sensing that it seemed like a policy. See especially the "mortar alley" post; people allegedly shot by the Russians along the exposed no-man's land of Yablunska street tend to be clustered around the craters of artillery largely fired from the Ukrainian-controlled southeast. 

Such attacks sometimes hit Russian forces and civilians or their infrastructure at the same time, but over and over, the latter was blamed on Russian forces.  For example, when a bright young girl lost her arm and some of her family in the shelling of Bucha, it was due to "Russian bombardments" (Viktor Kovalenko on Twitter), not due to "Kyiv's defense mission" that did all its work with explosive shells. That might be the case, but how that was decided is never explained. 

Mainstream news reports were late to acknowledge the issue in any form, but finally on April 18 and 24 the Washington Post and The Guardian reported how "fléchettes" or tiny darts were found in "dozens" of those killed in Bucha and the surrounding areas. These were said to be dispersed from artillery shells fired by the Russians, "a few days before" those Russians left Bucha under attack at the end of March. That probably doesn't include the same shelling in early March I've covered, and little detail is given as to just where these dart attacks even happened, let alone how. But the Post reported how resident Svitlana Chmut "found the projectiles in her car the morning of March 25 or 26, she said, after a night of intense shelling on both sides. It’s not clear if Russian troops were wounded by their own shell. The soldiers set up artillery positions and parked tanks in yards near Chmut’s home..."

If Russian troops were wounded in these attacks, no - it was probably not by their own shell. If any civilians were killed in this sharpened shelling of the Bucha gray zone, it also might not be a Russian shell. The darts recovered are the exact kind used to kill fighters, civilians, and a Red Cross worker in Donbas, autumn of 2014 (AP report, archived). Kiev "vehemently denied" their use then, implicitly blamed Russia or the separatists for shelling their own, but Human Rights Watch blamed them anyway: "While it was not possible to conclusively determine responsibility for many of the attacks, the evidence points to Ukrainian government forces’ responsibility for several cluster munition attacks on Donetsk. An employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed on October 2 in an attack on Donetsk that included use of cluster munition rockets."

In 2022, the same turned up probably in many Russian occupiers, and reportedly in "dozens" of locals killed under a regime of "defense" with Ukrainian artillery. Again Kiev denies the use, suggesting again the Russian-types are shelling themselves.

Mayor Fedoruk had earlier downplayed shelling in favor of shooting as the main cause of death in Bucha. "A Ukrainian official told AFP the dead men could have been killed in a bombardment or shot by Russian soldiers, and police would investigate. But the town's mayor, Anatoly Fedoruk, told AFP by phone that all of the 20 dead [along mortar alley on Yablunska street] had been shot in the back of the head. He added that other bodies still lay inside the wrecks of cars destroyed by shelling," and were presumably killed by that shelling. (BBC) But no one outside a car ever was? 

Fedoruk had said similar to the Kyiv Independent, a bit less categorically: "The Russians had a citywide shooting spree in Bucha. According to Fedoruk, over 80% of the bodies have bullet wounds, largely in the head and torso." City council member Taras Vyazovchenko expanded on this, telling the Independent “If in Irpin (a city next to Bucha) people died from fragments caused by shelling and mortars, in addition to being shot, then in Bucha people were mainly just shot, ...  There are practically no accidental hits among the victims.” Why would a Russian artillery strike on civilians be an "accident"? He'd say Ukraine would only kill locals on accident, as they "defended" the city with artillery shells, but that "practically" never happened.

On review of the evidence, there were likely hundreds of injuries like that girl suffered, and perhaps hundreds of fatalities following directly on the Ukrainian decision to "defend" Bucha with artillery. All of these, most likely, have been re-branded as Russian shelling, Russian shooting, and Russian other violence. And while there surely were at least a few deaths caused by Russian forces, intentionally or not, this denied collateral damage might well comprise the vast bulk of those "massacred" by "the Russians," or anyway killed "during the Russian occupation."

Tallying the Costs

Looking back on a month of Russian crimes and Ukrainian defense, Fedoruk gave some assessment of the losses, human and otherwise.

"From April 5, we calculate the extent of damage to high-rise buildings, as far as it can be done visually. That is, whether they are subject to repair or demolition. To date, we note that 20 high-rises out of 186 were subjected to artillery shelling. We are talking about those houses where everything was dumped. If somewhere the apartment burned down, something hit, it does not mean that it is (full-scale - UE) damage."  

By this, some 20 building suffered total losses and will need rebuilt, wile unclear others will just need some repairs. Bucha has had a lot of new, well-financed high-rises in the years since the Maidan revolution. Many come in easter egg colors and clustered into little magical sub-worlds that are nice to look at. Bucha has not as many of these as neighboring Irpin, and they suffered perhaps less damage, but still the shelling took some toll. One example is the Continent complex - a reasonably new and fancy housing and retail center in the east center of Bucha: Google Maps 

We see only light shelling here at the north parking lot - a dead man was seen to the northwest in the same parking lot, alongside an electrical station, laying near some flying car pieces and maybe primary explosive fragments that killed him. A wall of the station ahead is toppled - that plus damage to north faces of the buildings suggests this shelling was from the north, which tends to implicate Russian forces, depending when it happened and how that lines up with the control situation then, neither of which is clear to me. (images correlated). 

Several presumably Russian tanks and trucks were based between these towers, amid a chaos of flipped cars, but seen in a drove view as looking pretty intact. That was a good place to hide - because it was expensive and new? It's not there in 2015 Google Earth street view. A Continent Mall starter page on Facebook  shared designs with a darker color scheme into mid-2018, with no photos of it for real. Current Google Maps satellite view shows 6 buildings mostly done, just the foundation of another building south of those, and one of 2 town houses on the west done. By 2022 both town houses were done, and the tower at the south end of the complex was nearly finished. 

The latter is seen below, boxed in red on an Azov Battalion drone view of the whole complex viewed from the south. An unfinished high-rise behind school no. 3, was said to be a perch for Russian snipers to shoot at "anything that moved," starting on March 5. This is the place. Drones were in use daily. Artillery strikes from the south can be seen all over. But they there's no clear sign of anyone ever attacking the snipers or other Russians here. It looks as if construction could resume any time now. ("body?" noted is the one above - probably not blamed on snipers here.) 

In contrast, Fedoruk noted "and [as for private homes] - about 200 houses were damaged." As the editors noted above, when he says "damaged" he means irreparably destroyed. 

At least seven house were wiped out right here on Vokzalna street, about 2/3 of those at the explosive epicenter of Bucha's February 27 "liberation" ... from a Russian tank column's retreat from the Irpin bridge. As seen at right, again below, and to be explained in part 2, some 13 tanks/armored vehicles were destroyed or disabled here, a few others seized, and some 11 homes were fully destroyed, about as many probably needing rebuilt and others that could be repaired. Of course people lived there. They should be hiding in basement shelters, not standing at the window watching the tanks. But who knows? (right: Azov Battalion drone view, March 29. Below: Zoreslav Zamoisky photo 2/28 - see here regarding Zamoysky)

For what it's worth, this might open the way to some redevelopment towards the more prized model of pretty high-rises. But the main point was to stop the Russian advance, or anyway to kill them and wreck their armor, and maybe to block this most direct route to prevent them trying that crossing again. 

It's not clear how many deaths and injuries or damage is officially attributed to this Ukrainian shelling of their own city, in this and other incidents combined. Following reports and public statements, it sounds like there were officially no costs resulting from Kyiv's actions. Continuing with Fedoruk's interview:

- How many civilians died in the city during the occupation?

- As of April 6, we have stated the death of 320 civilians. There is not a single soldier among those who were shot and tortured by Russian troops. The final information will be a little later, we will cover everything. ... So far, 163 citizens have been identified,

That sounds like 320 civilians died - later expanded to past 400 - and all of them were killed by Russian violence. Shooting and torture are specified. Shelling by them or anyone isn't mentioned. So whatever cost there is still to pay, Russia will have to pay it all, if that can be helped. If Kiev can evade all blame for its decisions, that lessens the motive to weigh options carefully and minimize damage. In fact having deaths and destruction to hang on Russia in the information war might even bring adequate motive to increase the collateral damage - especially for some more extreme elements in Ukraine's ever-expanding armed forces, and especially if that killing could be directed to Ukrainians they'd rather see dead anyway. Those are not just hypothetical thoughts.

The Line that was Drawn

The UP interviewer got the impression "most of those shot are those who wanted to evacuate, but did not have time to do so," which Fedoruk affirmed: "They wanted to, yes." But they couldn't leave because most of the river crossings to escape by were destroyed by the end of February. That was caused by Russian bombing in some accounts, but it was probably by Kiev in all cases, including a rail line only suitable for pedestrians to cross. The following infographic looks at six crossings to the west of Kyiv. 

Part 2 will look at the late-February halting of Russia's advance that first set the tone of this gray zone, including the northernmost attack here, on the E373. Other crossings. notably to southeastern Bucha, were blocked by Kyiv or left unclear. This is the gate that was dropped, leaving thousands out there "defended" only with artillery, as "Russian shelling" and "Russian snipers" and whatnot impeded their escape, and caused every death that ensued - allegedly. 

Continue to Part 2 (forthcoming)


  1. Patrick Lancaster's car ran over some flechettes a week or so ago

    CNN story about them
    says these rounds were being fired at Irpin March 5 and "It is unclear whether the flechettes were what killed the victims".

  2. The fact that the Ukrainian flag was photographed in Bucha on some date means nothing in regards to who was in control. Russians only started removing Ukrainian flags and pro-Ukrainian officials in the south, when it was decided that Kherson and Zaparozhia would permanently become parts of Russia. In the north Ukrainian officials were encouraged to stay and continue with their activities, as long as they did not interfere with the movement of Russian troops.

    Mayor Fedoruk staying in Bucha makes him a collaborator. He now has some explaining to do to get himself out of the mess.

    In this war I have never seen Russia use artillery or mortars at residential areas. Mariupol was destroyed, but it was the result of direct fire from tank guns. Tanks fired through windows at individual apartments where Ukrainian defenders were firing machine guns and rifles from. Often the side effect was setting the whole apartment on fire.

    Parts of Irpen were damaged, but this again seems to be the result of Ukrainian artillery.


    Note the strange story about a possible mass grave of 280 civilians, just south of the Bucha River at coordinates 50.521318 N 30.204626 E.

    "The captured British mercenary found the coordinates of the burial of civilians"

    1. In this video by Patrick Lancaster the Russian artillerymen make an effort to explain that they never target civilian areas. Proves nothing though.

      "Artillery Battles Rage In Southern Ukraine (Russian Artillery Special Report)"

    2. I was wrong about Russians never using indirect fire on cities. Here is drone video of Azov snipers on rooftops in Mariupol being hit by small mortars. The mortar shells are too small to cause structural damage to the concrete buildings.

      "🇷🇺🇺🇦 New footage of the hunt for birdmen of Azov in Mariupol during the battles for the city"

  3. This post by Roman Saponkov explains the meaning of the "gray zone".

    I've been in the gray zone. He was in the positions of artillerymen. During our visit, the guys received the coordinates of the Ukrainian infantry group. We went out with them to strike.

    The legendary gray zone is an area that is shot through by enemy artillery, so there is no classic front line with trenches. Modern mobile warfare is when drones are constantly hanging in the air, radio reconnaissance pinpoints launch points, a counter-battery duel is fought with 1-2 guns that jump out of ambushes, fire 3-6 shots and immediately leave for cover.

    I never tire of admiring our guys. The calculations were worked out from the field shot by the APU. This means that in 5-10 minutes after the first salvo, a response may arrive. Men, of course, know this. The last shot fired, silence fell. Calculations outwardly calmly stand next to the guns, waiting for the order: "Hang up, we turn off!" The internal spring unclenches, the men rush to turn off the guns like a bullet. Only now do you understand the inner tension.

    The post includes a 12 minute video of Russian artillery firing from Kherson into Dnepropetrovsk Oblast. The video shares some of the footage with the Patrick Lancaster video I linked above.
    "Artillery Battles Rage In Southern Ukraine (Russian Artillery Special Report)"

  4. No doubt that the Ukrainian shelling have killed civilians in Bucha (the French gendarmerie has found later some of these darts in the corpses of victims), but others were pro-Russia, whom the Ukrainian death squads have slaughtered after March 31

  5. https://www.facebook.com/1473971445/posts/10228192074535102/


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