Ukraine on March 31 marked one year since Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, leaving behind hundreds of bodies of murdered civilians on the streets of the commuter town near the capital in what Kyiv said was a massacre and a Russian war crime.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy presided over an official outdoor ceremony in Bucha that was also attended by Moldovan President Maia Sandu and the prime ministers of EU and NATO members Croatia, Slovakia, and Slovenia — Eduard Geger, Robert Golob, and Andrej Plenkovich.
In a video posted on social media, Zelenskiy called the Bucha massacre “a symbol of the atrocities” committed by the Russian military.
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“We will never forgive. We will punish all those guilty,” Zelenskiy said in a statement accompanying the video.
As the Russian military was forced to hastily leave Bucha and Irpin, another town on the outskirts of Kyiv, after a failed attempt to capture the Ukrainian capital, images of the dead bodies scattered on the streets of Bucha sparked a wave of shock and condemnation around the world.
Russia has denied committing the massacres and claimed the deaths were “staged” by Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials estimate about 400 bodies of civilians were found in Bucha, as well as more than 1,000 throughout the region around Kyiv.
Many of the bodies were buried in mass graves.
In a video message, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States “will continue pushing for accountability and for justice for as long as it takes.”
Ukrainian and international investigators have opened a probe into war crimes in Bucha, Irpin, and other locations in Ukraine where apparent massacres occurred.
“The key word today is justice. Justice…for all our people who lost relatives, loved ones, health, home, [and] normal life due to Russian aggression, due to the terror of the occupier,” Zelenskiy said in his evening video message.
He added that the events that took place in Bucha on the anniversary and other talks with international officials were aimed at speeding up the process of creating a tribunal on Russian aggression.
Sandu tweeted about the event in Bucha, saying the people of Moldova “stand with the global community in remembering the terror inflicted on the civilians in Bucha one year ago.”
“We honor and grieve the innocent. Democracies must work together to ensure that these atrocities are investigated and punished,” she added.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc “assists Ukraine to investigate such crimes and collect evidence,” while Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Bucha showed the world “the true face of Russian occupation.”
“A year ago, Ukraine liberated Bucha and the world woke up to the true face of Russian occupation. Bucha is a crime scene and a symbol for all Russian crimes — mass killings, deportations, erasing whole cities,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote on Twitter on March 31. “There’s no going back — Russia will be held accountable.”
Meanwhile, fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces for control of Bakhmut and other key towns in the eastern region of Donetsk continued unabated as the northeastern city of Kharkiv was targeted with missile and drone strikes overnight, the military said on March 31.
Russia targeted civilian infrastructure in the city of Kharkiv with nine missile strikes launched from S-300 air-to-surface systems and 10 Iranian-made Shahed drones, Ukraine’s General Staff said in its daily report, adding that nine drones were destroyed.
At least five civilians were wounded, authorities said.
“The enemy continues to ignore the laws and customs of war, using terror tactics against the peaceful citizens of our country,” the military said.
WATCH: Ukrainian artillery targets Russian armored guns at a range of up to 28 kilometers in the ongoing battle for Bakhmut. Using a captured self-propelled cannon, a Ukrainian artillery crew is also trying to destroy Russian command posts.
In the southern Kherson region, Russian troops shelled settlements 64 times over the past day, killing one person and wounding two, the regional military administration reported on March 31.
The city of Kramatorsk in Donetsk was also struck by two Russian missiles that damaged eight residential buildings, the military said.
Heavy fighting continued in and around Bakhmut, where the Ukrainian defenders repelled 22 attacks over the past 24 hours, and in Avdiyivka, Lyman, and Maryinka.
A civilian was killed and six others were wounded by Russian shelling the area around Bakhmut, the governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kirylenko, wrote on Telegram on March 31.
Bakhmut, a mining city with a prewar population of 70,000 people, has become the epicenter of Russia’s offensive for the control of eastern Ukraine. About 2,000 civilians are thought to be left in the city, which has been all but razed to the ground.
In southern Ukraine, the city of Zaporizhzhya was targeted by overnight shelling by Russia that damaged civilian infrastructure, the secretary of the Zaporizhzhya city council, Anatoliy Kurtev, reported on Telegram.
Kurtev said no one was injured.