Bucha is not unique – Russian invaders are experts in collective punishment

The murder of civilians in Bucha sparked outcry around the world. For the Ukrainian military, however, it was what they had been anticipating.

Ukrainian intelligence were aware prior to the conflict that the Russians planned to hunt down Ukraine’s civil society leaders, while Ukrainian commanders recognised that atrocities were a standard part of Russian anti-partisan operations.

During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet military would routinely bomb or raid villages after insurgent attacks took place nearby. A significant proportion of the Soviet troops who served in Afghanistan were Ukrainian, and today some of Ukraine’s general officers started their military careers fighting in that conflict. They remember the orders they received and the long history of such actions in Russian military thought.

In January 1919, Beilby Alson sent a telegram to the Foreign Office in London to describe what he was observing in the Russian Civil War. He wrote how “the number of innocent civilians brutally murdered by Bolsheviks at Argo and other Ural towns runs into hundreds; some of these people have been found with eyes pierced out, others without noses… girls have been raped, and amongst others, Bishop Andronick was buried alive at Perm whilst 25 priests were shot ther..”

This pattern of atrocities has repeated itself in conflict after conflict involving the Russian military. From the Civil War to the Second World War, and from Afghanistan to Chechnya, where Russian soldiers went house to house in Aldi shooting civilians, there have been many Buchas. Stories of rape and mutilations are now emerging across Ukraine.

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