Russian Media Spins Alleged Atrocities—'Shot by Nazis'

A Russian state-run media outlet on Monday sought to spin the alleged atrocities in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, claiming the slain civilians were "shot by Nazis."

Keeping in line with the Kremlin's rhetoric that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to "de-Nazify" Ukraine, Komsomolskaya Pravda's military correspondent, Alexander Kots, wrote an editorial about who he believes was behind the alleged massacres in the suburbs of Kyiv.

Hundreds of bodies were found lying on streets in the town near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Ukrainian authorities said on Sunday they were investigating potential war crimes by Russian forces after they withdrew from the town following intense fighting that began days after Putin launched an invasion on February 24.

The Kremlin on Monday denied any accusations connected to the killing of civilians in Bucha.

"Terrible footage was published by the Ukrainian side," wrote Kots. "The Russian military was indiscriminately accused of torture and extrajudicial executions. The proof—only shots with unfortunate people on the streets, in basements."

Kots said he has "no doubt" that the images and videos show dead bodies, but questioned who shot the civilians, repeating the Kremlin's assertions that all Russian forces had left Bucha on March 30.

Ukrainian troops said they recaptured the town of Bucha on Saturday.

"I was in the suburbs of Kyiv...in fact, the withdrawal of our units began even earlier. It's just that by the 30th, there were not a single soldier from Russia left in Bucha," said Kots.

Kots alleged that Ukrainian forces didn't realize immediately that Russian forces had withdrawn completely, and "continued to launch artillery strikes" in Bucha.

He claimed that far-right political figure Sergei Korotkikh, also known by the nicknames "Malyuta" and "Boatswain," gave the orders to fire at people who weren't wearing blue bandages on their sleeves, which he said identifies them as a "friend" of Ukrainian forces.

Some of the dead bodies shown in videos from Bucha showed individuals with a white bandage of their arm, Kots claimed. He said a white bandage "is an identification mark of Russian forces."

Bucha's mayor, Anatoly Fedoruk, told Agence France-Presse on Saturday that white bandages are worn "to show that they were unarmed."

Fedoruk said at least 20 men in civilian clothes had been shot in the back of the head by Russian forces, and that the town has buried almost 300 people in mass graves.

"Neo-Nazi Sergei Korotkikh 'Boatswain' is also known in Russia by the nickname 'Malyuta,'" wrote Kots. "It was he who gave 'good' to fire at people without identification marks. They just killed people on the streets without understanding whether they had weapons or not."

According to the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, Korotkikh is a former officer of the Azov regiment, a far-right militia group that rose to prominence in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea, and is now part of Ukraine's National Guard.

Putin made reference to the presence of such regiments within Ukraine's military to justify launching what he calls a "special military operation" against Ukraine that aims to "de-militarize and de-Nazify" the country.

"In Russia, such neo-fascists do not take root, but Ukraine meets them with open arms," said Kots.

Russian pundit Timofei Sergeitsev said in an op-ed published by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti on Sunday that "a significant part of the masses of the people, who are passive Nazis, are accomplices to Nazism. They have supported the Nazi authorities and indulged them...".

Ruslan Leviev, an analyst with the Conflict Intelligence Team, which tracks the Russian military in Ukraine, told CBS News that "there are no Nazi battalions in Ukraine."

"There is [the Azov] regiment... There are [estimated] several thousand people who are in this regiment. It is indeed a group where many members adhere to nationalist and far-right views," Leviev explained. "But a lot of people also join it because it is one of the most prepared and fit-for-war units."

Newsweek has contacted Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine for comment.

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Ukrainian town of Bucha
This general view shows destroyed Russian armored vehicles in the city of Bucha, west of Kyiv, on March 4, 2022. Hundreds of bodies were found lying on streets in the town near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv over the weekend. Getty Images/ARIS MESSINIS/AFP