French forensic experts in Bucha to help Ukraine investigate possible war crimes

BUCHA, Ukraine, April 12 (Reuters) - French forensic experts have arrived in Bucha near Kyiv to help Ukraine authorities establish what happened in the town where hundreds of bodies have been discovered since Russian forces withdrew.

Ukraine says the people were killed by Russian forces during their occupation of the area. Reuters has not been able to verify the number of people found dead in Bucha or the circumstances of their deaths. read more

The discovery of so many slain civilians in Bucha after the Russian withdrawal has provoked a global outcry. Moscow has denied responsibility and dismissed allegations its troops committed war crimes as fake news.

As the group from the French Gendarmerie's forensic science department looked on, workers in hazmat suits dug earth from a shallow grave and lifted out a heavy mass wrapped in an orange blanket.

Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said, citing witnesses, that the burnt body parts inside were those of a woman and her two children.

Venediktova said over the next couple of weeks the French experts would help the Ukrainian authorities establish what happened to the people in Bucha.

"We have now a lot of jobs unfortunately with war crimes," Venediktova said at the churchyard site, where locals hastily buried people who died during the town's occupation.

"When you see dead bodies here, from the other side, from the Russian Federation, they say it is all fake, all this is our theatre," Venediktova said.

Venediktova said the international experts would be able to see the situation for themselves. "They can see everything, they can see the situation here: real graves, real dead bodies, real bomb attacks. That's why for us this moment is very important."

Moscow, which has repeatedly denied targeting civilians since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, has called allegations that Russian forces executed civilians in Bucha while they occupied the town a "monstrous forgery" aimed at denigrating the Russian army.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that images and footage of dead bodies strewn across the Ukrainian town of Bucha were fake.

Speaking at a televised news conference Putin compared Ukrainian allegations that Russian servicemen executed civilians in Bucha to what he said was the staging by the West of a chemical weapons attack in Syria aimed at incriminating Bashar al-Assad.

"It's the same kind of fake in Bucha," Putin said. read more

On Monday, the French authorities said the team, which includes experts on ballistics, explosives, and rapid DNA testing, would also be able to contribute what they find to an International Criminal Court investigation.

Local priest Andriy Halavin said their work would help prove to the world what happened to the people of Bucha, including those recently unearthed in his churchyard.

"They didn't just die from explosions, by chance, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they were deliberately shot," Halavin said.

"Some were in cars, driving, and they were shot. Some were walking on the street and they were shot."

"It's very important that the whole world sees the truth because Russian propaganda always tells stories and lies."

Editing by Jane Merriman

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