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Images and reporting from Bucha, Ukraine, raise serious questions about war crimes

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

That grim reality of what has happened in Kyiv's suburbs, particularly in Bucha, weighs heavily on the city just as it weighs heavily on people around the world. NPR's Nathan Rott was in Bucha today, and he joins us now to tell us what he saw. We should warn listeners a lot of what we are about to discuss will be very disturbing. Hey, Nate.

NATE ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: And, Nate, remind us why just about every Western leader is talking so much about Bucha this week.

ROTT: Yeah. So Bucha is this place that was recently left by Russian forces. And it's a place that, you know, some of the most horrifying accounts of the war are coming from - dead civilians lining streets next to bikes or with spilled groceries, deceased men who appear to have their hands tied. It's those images that are raising the most serious questions about war crimes to this point in the conflict. And it's those images that are causing the United Nations Security Council to meet today.

DETROW: You were there today. Tell us what you saw.

ROTT: Yeah. So I went on a press tour arranged by Ukrainian officials. It was a very large group of journalists, well over 100, who were all being escorted by police into this area that's still being swept for mines. One of the places we stopped is one that you've probably seen if you've been looking at the images from Bucha. It's a narrow residential street that's clogged with destroyed and burnt military vehicles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASHES CRUNCHING)

ROTT: The street is littered with bullet casings, torn camouflage jackets and craters from artillery rounds. In places, there's so much ash on the ground, it actually feels like you're walking on black sand.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

ROTT: A small, dark dog barks beside its owner, his home destroyed. All of the homes on the street have been damaged. Volodymyr Avramov's is one of the worst.

VOLODYMYR AVRAMOV: (Through interpreter) A fire broke out. I started extinguishing the fire. I tried to. You can see right there.

ROTT: Our translator, Luka, points to a burnt fire extinguisher as we walk through the rubble, making our way to the back of what's left of Avramov's house. He says Russian troops threw a grenade in his window the first night they came and yelled to come out of the house.

AVRAMOV: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: They said, hands - show your hands.

AVRAMOV: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: So he, his daughter and her husband walked out, hands in the air. The Russians started asking, who are you? Where are the Nazis?

AVRAMOV: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: And he said, there are no Nazis here. The Russian troops took Oleg, Avramov's son-in-law, to the road, he says.

AVRAMOV: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: And they shot him in the head. He says he took his daughter as bullets were flying. They went to a neighbor's house and hid there. They'd stay there for the next month, wearing the same clothes Avramov was wearing as we talked to him. His son-in-law's body laid there, he says, the entire time.

AVRAMOV: (Non-English language spoken).

ROTT: "I don't know how I held on," he says. "The explosions, living in a basement - I was ready," he says, "to walk out and just get killed." Avramov is one of many residents in Bucha trying to figure out what to do next. Officials are telling residents not to return. The area is still not safe. Police and military are sweeping neighborhoods block by block, looking for mines, unexploded ordnance and bodies. And sadly, they're finding all of the above. At a rural subdivision in Bucha near a brightly colored playground, Ukrainian police gather journalists in front of a house.

They're moving badly burned bodies to bags.

(SOUNDBITE OF BODY BAG ZIPPING)

ROTT: Six bodies were found here the night before, says police spokesman Dmytro Andriv - four women, two men. Here's Andriv's translator.

DMYTRO ANDRIV: (Through interpreter) They was shot by gun fires and then somebody trying to hide this crime and to burn these bodies.

ROTT: Ukraine's prosecutor general is examining the bodies that are being discovered here, looking for evidence of possible war crimes.

DETROW: That was Nate Rott reporting in Bucha. And, Nate, we should be clear that what we've just heard are allegations of war crimes, but they are allegations that have not yet been fully investigated.

ROTT: Yeah, that's right. The only investigation that's going on right now, to our knowledge, is by Ukrainian authorities and journalists. The United Nations has said an independent investigation is needed to ensure accountability, but that doesn't seem to have been initiated yet.

DETROW: Nate Rott from NPR. Thank you for reporting on such a difficult story.

ROTT: Yeah. Thank you, Scott. I appreciate you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.