FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

They said Vladimir Putin wanted to erase Ukraine from the map. His savage army appears to understand this mission literally.

Ukrainian fighters returning to the city of Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, after Russian troops retreated, did not expect what they found. Corpses of civilians, many of them bound, littered the streets. Most of them shot at the back of the head.

A mass grave was uncovered. It was large enough to be seen from satellite images of the city and contained hundreds of hurriedly buried Ukrainians. Some of the remains, including children, bore signs of torture.

There was one possible reason for this scale of atrocity. Bucha’s streets were littered with the carcasses of Russian tanks and trucks. Military analysts knew the Ukrainian fighters fiercely resisted the invading army. They did not expect the rout to be this severe. Scores of Russian armored vehicles were blasted in the city’s streets.

Much was made of the 64-kilometer long Russian armored column that rolled south from Belarus. This massive array of military power, spearheaded by the best-trained regiments of the Russian army, was clearly intended to surround Kyiv. It bogged down in several places, particularly the city of Bucha.

One eyewitness described the scene as a “turkey shoot.” The stalled Russian tanks were sitting ducks and the Ukrainian fighters put their anti-tank weapons to very good use.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of Russian troops, died on the streets of Bucha, many burning with their vehicles. As they retreated, the surviving Russian troops took their revenge on the civilian population. “Massacre” is too light a word to describe this. What the world sees is plainly genocide.

Bucha’s is not an isolated case. The scene in this city’s streets could have repeated elsewhere, in the many cities where the heroic resistance waged by Ukraine’s armed forces brought grief to the invading army.

Over the month since Putin’s invasion began, we have seen gross atrocities committed by the Russian army. Entire residential blocks have been destroyed by missile attacks. At Mariupol, a theater sheltering hundreds of women and children was struck by a cruise missile. About 300 civilians were killed.

Well over 4.5 million Ukrainians were forced to flee across borders. In other areas in the east, Russian troops abducted civilian populations. Millions more Ukrainians are internally displaced.

Putin’s invasion force is committing war crimes everyday. Civilian targets are wantonly shelled. Civilian convoys fleeing besieged cities are attacked from the air. Russian tank crews have been filmed firing at families fleeing in their cars.

Russia must be held accountable for the gruesome crimes fully documented by television crews and ordinary citizens using cellphones. Final responsibility for this savagery rests on Vladimir Putin himself. It is his demented vision for resurrecting the Russian empire of yore that set this carnage in motion.

A war crimes tribunal will have to be set up eventually to prosecute those responsible for the gross inhumanity happening before our eyes. It could take decades for the trials to complete. But it will take generations for the trauma and animosity to heal.

Putin’s henchmen may try to disguise their army’s ghastly retreat as some sort of maneuver to consolidate in Ukraine’s eastern regions. Putin will never admit to defeat, never while he lives. But defeat is what Ukraine’s armed forces dealt him. That cannot be denied.

Putin’s invading army set out for what they imagined to be a happy excursion. They would sweep away the Ukrainian army and be met by cheering residents in the streets. That did not happen.

The invading army failed in all their objectives. They failed to capture Kyiv and decapitate the Zelensky government. They failed to build the land bridge to Crimea and seal the Black Sea coast to cripple Ukraine. They have lost cities earlier taken by force. They could not take Mariupol even if nearly the entire port city has been reduced to rubble.

Russia’s mighty armored convoys, or what is left of them, are limping home. They could retreat back to the two districts in the east occupied in 2013 by Moscow-supported separatist. But that is exactly what returning to Square One means.

Putin has pulled an information iron curtain to keep the humiliating news from his people. But the truth will inevitably filter in. On several regiment websites that cannot be censored by the state, kin and comrades mourn the deaths of so many soldiers sent to invade Ukraine.

This is not a war. This is brutality writ large. This is an assault on the world’s understanding of civility.

Beyond the strategic and geopolitical questions, the world must now make a moral choice.

The Ukrainians are a decent and sensible people. When the Soviet Union broke up, they decided to give up the country’s substantial nuclear arsenal. Even when dictators tried to rule over them, Ukrainians did not see their future as one where they threaten others with nuclear warheads. They wanted a nation of artists and athletes and musicians.

Should Russia consolidate its forces in Ukraine’s eastern districts, this will be a long conflict. The sanctions will be prolonged. The world’s shared sensibility will condemn Putin and his regime to extreme isolation.

Inevitably, international isolation will condemn Russia into a larger version of North Korea: a deluded power aiming missiles at the rest of humanity. Instead of reviving its imperialist past, Russia will implode into backwater society disliked rather than feared by the rest of the world.

It is for the Russian people to decide if they want the bleak future Putin offers.


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with