How the New York Times Tracked and Identified Boutcha’s Russian Criminals

If it only seemed to be a prelude to a war where daily abuses committed by Russian forces are a dark standard, the Boucha massacre was one of the first horror moments of the ongoing war, doomed by a large part of the international community.

Whether international justice is already at work to discover the perpetrators of these war crimes, even against humanity, the New York Times also carried out an eight-month long investigation, which gave rise to a video – visible below – which allowed the formal identification of a number of actors in this modern tragedy.

“So families can see criminals in court, say ‘It was the Russians who did this” not enough”explains the journalist narrator of this documentary with sometimes very raw images. “Evidence must lead to the specific units that committed these crimes, as well as their leaders”: these are the links that the journalists of the American daily, with all possible means at their disposal, set out to seek.

Recall of facts. At the end of February, a few days after the start of the invasion war decided by the Kremlin. The Russian troops, who were only a short distance from kyiv, were caught at Boutcha in a violent Ukrainian ambush which mistreated them severely and forced them to retreat.

This will only be of short duration. At the beginning of March, elite troops are back in the city. To try again to create a passage towards kyiv, they advance this time more cautiously, block by block and from the West, via Yablonska street: it is then that the exactions begin.

They will often be filmed. Many cameras record actions, gestures and discussions of these troops. Codenames appear: “Flakon”, “Astra”, and “Uran”, which seem to correspond to the command of the units involved. One “Comrade Colonel!” repeatedly called by soldiers indicates the high rank of the individual in charge.

On four occasions, in four specific locations, New York Times reporters had access to videos showing Russian soldiers at the exact moment they were shooting down Ukrainian civilians.

In total, the American daily affirms that its journalists, based on the spot or in New York, have analyzed and scrutinized “thousands of hours of video, from surveillance cameras, city residents or drones operated by the Ukrainian military to trace the movements of Russian military forces hour by hour as one particular unit took the control of Yablonska Street. Wherever they went, we found evidence directly linking a unit and its leader to the crimes committed.”

They questioned direct witnesses, identified the markings on the vehicles, listened to the conversations captured by the surveillance cameras, used the calls made with the telephones of the victims by their executioners to find their identities.

The NYT investigation shows that the killings of civilians were not accidental, were not the unfortunate happenstance of individuals caught in the crossfire of two armies, were not “collateral damages” no more than isolated acts of barbarism, but that they are the result “of a planned, methodical and deadly operation”.

We see the houses searched, the men separated from the women, led with their hands in the air towards their interrogation. Then, for many of them, some members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense but disarmed and no longer able to fight, led to a cold and thoughtful execution –dead bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs.

Butchers of Boutcha

According to the NYT’s conclusions, while several units were at work in the wealthy Ukrainian town, one of them was particularly involved in the murders on Yablonska Street: the 234e Guards Air Assault Regiment, member of the Airborne Troops of the Russian Federation.

Soldiers stole the mobile phones of two of their victims to make phone calls to their families in Pskov. Vehicles operated by 234e have also been identified on the videos of Yablonska Street: marked with particular symbols leaving no doubt, the same vehicles appear on films dating from their delivery to Pskov, or during exercises in Belarus before the invasion.

Other evidence was found on the spot, in Boutcha, in the base occupied by the Russian forces and among the rubbish left en masse by the soldiers, in particular listings or boxes of ammunition with references pointing directly to the 234e Guards Air Assault Regiment. A personal letter, addressed by name to one of the latter’s members, was even found in a house in the city by locals.

More footage is being shot on March 5, some of which has not been released to the public so far. On some of them, the military experts point to a high-ranking officer: the individual in question is permanently accompanied by a bodyguard as well as a man in charge of the radio.

Soldiers and tanks have gone up Yablonska Street, organize themselves at a crossroads, get into position. Then shoot, without any real reason or threat: another civilian, a cyclistas well as a person in a blue van, who was trying to flee the city with his neighbors, are then killed and add to an already too long list of victims.

Forty minutes later, another man trying to leave Boutcha was shot dead, in the same place: a man, interviewed by the New York Times and placed near the place, captured everything thanks to his smartphone. A few meters from the Russian tanks, another woman on a bicycle, not presenting the slightest danger, tries to return home to find her husband: the gunner tells her at close range, and kills her.

The officer already mentioned is only a few meters from the scene, and from the vehicles which fired a little earlier: at no time did he ask his troops to stop firing. Worse, civilians are taken from a nearby house. A man is separated from his wife, then is coldly executed.

Filmed by a man living a few meters from the place where they are committed, the assassinations committed by the men of 234e continue the following days, as the regiment advances in Yablonska Street.

Three men are brought to their knees and shot dead, a passer-by is also killed while witnessing the scene. Here again, telephone calls made by twelve of the men of the regiment with the telephone of one of the men killed point to those responsible: their names are revealed by the daily.

Each of the victims of these executioners had a life, a story, the last hours, the last moments that the New York Times also wanted to tell, in another very detailed article on thirty-six people who lost their lives in Boutcha.

As for the leader of 234e Guards Air Assault Regiment, he was identified by the NYT as Lt. Col. Artyom Gorodilov, who oversaw the unit’s overall operations at Boutcha. Artyom Gorodilov was promoted when images of the massacres were circulating around the world: he is now a colonel in the Russian army.

How the New York Times Tracked and Identified Boutcha’s Russian Criminals