On the first weekend of April 2022, Russian forces withdrew from Bucha, an outskirt of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. The Ukrainians endured the Russian onslaught and bombardment of Kyiv, and scored a victory. But upon the retaking of their territory, they discovered the aftermath of Russian occupation. The discovery is beyond description, unbelievable, and unforgiveable. Images of the carnage were shown worldwide in news broadcasts. 

Hundreds of defenseless civilians, men and women, had been brutally tortured and murdered. Bodies of men, with their hands tied behind their backs, were strewn throughout the previously occupied area. They were mutilated by torture and executed with a single gunshot through their heads. Women had been beaten, gang raped, and murdered. 

In Bucha, Russian soldiers used refrigerated trucks to store bodies of torture victims before burying them or cremating them with mobile crematoriums. But their killing frenzy overwhelmed their capacity to bury and cremate. When they withdrew, a week later, they left hundreds of bodies to decompose in the streets. 

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, called the news reports “propaganda, a staged fabrication.” 

How absurd! I am outraged but not astonished. 

I am a survivor of Russian occupation of Lithuania in the years 1939 to 1941. My mind recalls vivid images of Stalin’s campaign to eradicate my nation. 

In the spring of 1941, Germans drove the Russians from Lithuania, after a two-year occupation. The retreating Russians left 70-80 political prisoners tortured and murdered in a forest called Rainiai, near Telsiai city. 

The torture and murders in the Rainiai forest revealed to me a new horror of Russian captivity. Before then, I only feared deportation to Siberia. 

In February of 1944, in Germany’s heartland, my mother and I were refugees from the Eastern front. In a meeting of residents in our housing facility, I witnessed a young German woman account her torture and gang rape by Russian soldiers. Her bruised body shuddered as she wept. Her testimonial validated the necessity for my and my mother’s flight from the advancing Russians. 

Crimes against civilians by Russian armies date back to the 16th century and Ivan the Terrible. Such propensity to repeatedly commit atrocities over decades and centuries casts a dark shadow upon Russia. Six hundred years later, humanity ponders how to disrupt such murderous degenerates.

At the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Australia proposed to treat Russia as a pariah nation. But discomforts of economic sanctions are insufficient to motivate the Russian people to confront their heritage. First they must purge themselves of their murderous government, and then, revive their innate humanism.

Accounts of atrocities in Ukraine must be recorded in the annals of history. All perpetrators, with no exceptions, must be held responsible and accountable. 

Putin, his inner circle, and his generals must be tried by the International Criminal Court. Even the lowest-ranking soldiers must be convicted for hands soaked with the blood of the defenseless. The excuse “We were following orders” must be rejected, as it was in the Nazi trials in Nuremberg.

Fred Natkevi is a longtime resident of Oak Park who grew up in Eastern Europe during WWII.

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