The timeline of events in Bucha is critical to understanding events around the 2022 massacre. Many narratives about Bucha hinge entirely on the order of events, and on the dates of certain pieces of evidence.
In this article, we lay out several viral claims about the Bucha massacre, and show how each is either debunked or strengthened by the timeline of documented events.
Timeline: March-April 2022
- March 5 – Russian troops take control of Bucha [UN]
- March 9 to 11 – Dark objects of similar size to a human body appear in satellite images of Yablonska Street, Bucha. [NYT]
- March 18, 19 – Additional satellite images taken on these dates by Maxar Technologies show shapes later matched to dead bodies found on one road in Bucha. [AP]
- March 30-31 – Russian forces withdraw from Bucha. [BBC] [HRW] [UN]
- March 31 – Bucha is restored to Ukrainian control. (Source: statements by Ukrainian authorities the following day – April 1.) [Ukrainska Pravda ]
- April 1 – Photos and videos of dead bodies left in the streets begin to emerge from Bucha, and circulate on social media. [Twitter post] [EDMO.eu]
- April 2 – The first journalists enter Bucha. AFP publish photos and videos showing bodies in the street. [AFP]
- April 3 – President Zelensky gives an official address confirming the massacre in Bucha. [Office of the President]
- April 3 – Russian officials claim that the bodies on the streets in Bucha were “staged” by Ukraine and its allies after the Russian withdrawal. [NYT] [Russian official statement]
- April 4 – The New York Times releases a report showing that satellite imagery indicates the bodies appeared on the streets while the town was under Russian control. [NYT]
On April 4, 2022, the NYT Visual Investigation Team reported (emphasis ours):
When images emerged over the weekend of the bodies of dead civilians lying on the streets of Bucha — some with their hands bound, some with gunshot wounds to the head — Russia’s Ministry of Defense denied responsibility. In a Telegram post on Sunday [April 3], the ministry suggested that the bodies had been recently placed on the streets after “all Russian units withdrew completely from Bucha” around March 30. […]
But a review of videos and satellite imagery by The Times shows that many of the civilians were killed more than three weeks ago, when Russia’s military was in control of the town.
One video filmed by a local council member on April 1 shows multiple bodies scattered along Yablonska Street in Bucha. Satellite images provided to The Times by Maxar Technologies show that at least 11 of those had been on the street since March 11, when Russia, by its own account, occupied the town.
To confirm when the bodies appeared, and when the civilians were likely killed, the Visual Investigations team at The Times conducted a before-and-after analysis of satellite imagery. The images show dark objects of similar size to a human body appearing on Yablonska Street between March 9 and March 11. The objects appear in the precise positions in which the bodies were found after Ukrainian forces reclaimed Bucha, as the footage from April 1 shows. Further analysis shows that the objects remained in those position for over three weeks.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a major international news agency whose team were the first journalists on the ground in Bucha. In this tweet, AFP shows an example of visual analysis used to compare satellite imagery of Bucha with photos taken on the ground.
Deutsche Welle (DW) confirms the New York Times’s findings, using satellite photos from a later date:
A before-and-after comparison of satellite images taken on March 19 and the above-mentioned video of April 2 shows that the bodies were in exactly the same position on the road. These images refute Russian claims that the corpses only appeared on the road after the withdrawal of Russian troops on March 30.
France 24, one of the major English-language international news channels outside the US, summarized the findings on April 5, 2022:
Other media outlets (including AP and the BBC) also compared satellite images to the footage and photos taken on the ground in Bucha, and came to the same conclusion – that many of these bodies were on the ground for weeks, and appeared there during the period when Russian troops were in control of the village.
Conclusion: Satellite imagery shows that the dead bodies of civilians appeared on the streets when Bucha was controlled by Russian forces, according to Russia’s own official timeline of events. These bodies were left to lie in the street for weeks while the village was still under full Russian control. In addition, extensive witness testimony from Bucha residents attests that Russian soldiers were responsible for these killings.
The Ukrainian military could not have committed these murders, as they were not physically present in Bucha at the time of the killings.
The inescapable conclusion is that the mass killing of civilians in Bucha was committed by Russian occupying forces.
The BBC reports (emphasis ours):
A pro-Russian social media account, Rybar, says the Maxar satellite images shown in this article were not taken on 19 March – but on 1 April, the day after Russian forces departed.
Russia has made unfounded claims the killings were carried out by Ukrainians, but if the bodies were there on 19 March as the satellite images show, that cannot be the case. At that time Russia controlled the area.
Rybar says its conclusions are based on an analysis of shadows from images downloaded from the Maxar database, revealing the date and time at which the photograph was taken.
We contacted Maxar, who said it appeared Rybar had used the company’s image search tools wrongly, and that if correctly used, the images can clearly be shown to be from 19 March.
The BBC has also checked this analysis, comparing images from three separate companies (PlanetLab, Apollo Mapping and Maxar) taken from the available satellite imagery over this period.
We’ve determined that the lengths of the shadows (and therefore the angle of the sun) is consistent with the satellite images having been taken on the morning of 19 March and not on 1 April.
Conclusion: Both the satellite image provider and visual analysis of the photos confirm that the satellite photographs in question were taken on 19 March, not on 1 April as claimed by some pro-Russian outlets.
This confirms the date of the bodies’ appearance to have occurred during the weeks-long period of Russian occupation of Bucha – and not after liberation by Ukrainian forces.
Russian state-funded propaganda outlet Sputnik claims:
“Photos and videos of alleged dead civilians lying in the streets of Bucha, Ukraine’s Kiev region, according to Moscow, are ‘another production of the Kiev regime for the Western media,’ given that the Russian forces left the city on March 30, and nobody seems to have reported any dead bodies lying around for four days.”
Is this actually true? Let’s look at the timeline of events.
Russia says its forces withdrew from Bucha on 30 March. The Ukrainians say this happened in the early hours of 31 March.
It is unclear whether the Ukrainian military first re-entered the town of Bucha on 31 March or 1 April.
On 1 April, footage was posted filmed from a car driving through the town which showed bodies on either side of a road.
The following Tweet, posted April 1, 2022, contains the viral video of bodies lying along Yablonska Street, Bucha. This post is one of the first recorded instances of this video being posted to public social media.
In other words –
Less than a day and a half passed between Russian forces’ retreat from Bucha and the first evidence of bodies in the streets (compared to four days, as the Russian authorities claimed).
Important note: Access to Bucha was restricted even after it was liberated from Russian troops. Despite the Russian withdrawal, isolated Russian soldiers were reported in the area as late as April 1. Journalists were only allowed into Bucha starting April 2, 2022.
Conclusion: Russian claims about the timeline simply do not hold up. Video footage of bodies on the streets of Bucha began circulating almost as soon as the Ukrainian military re-entered the town. It appeared on Twitter either on the same day, or – at most – the day after. As Bucha was a closed military zone at the time, this is a reasonable timeline.
Claims of a “days”-long delay in reporting the bodies in Bucha are false.
A reasonable question: If all this evidence exists in satellite images of bodies lying in the streets, how could that possibly have been missed by media and intelligence agencies across the world? If photographic evidence had already been taken in mid-March of 2022, why did no one notice until Ukraine took back control of Bucha?
To address this question, let’s take a look at what the original satellite images actually look like.
This very short video clip shows a comparison of the satellite view of Yablonska Street in Bucha, before and after bodies appeared on the road (Feb. 28 vs March 19, 2022).
This particular section of satellite imagery from March 19, 2022, is one of the clearest satellite images of the bodies on the streets in Bucha during the period of Russian occupation. It has been posted by the BBC, the New York Times, and other major news outlets who conducted an analysis of the visual evidence from Bucha.
At the top of this BBC article, you can view the image of the street in its maximum available resolution. You will note right away that the quality is not much better than in the video and image embedded above.
What we see: Blurry, pixelated shapes in shades of gray and brown. Some of them look a lot like human bodies if our eye has already been told what to look for. Some of them are featureless shapes that could be just about anything.
Viewing the original satellite images, it is not surprising that they were not flagged as showing bodies before the on-the-ground photos were released.
It’s only when compared with the photos from the street, that the true value of the evidence from the satellite images becomes clear.
Jeffrey Lewis, a satellite imagery expert who has seen the Maxar images, described the process of deducing what the images meant as “very straightforward.”
“You see pictures on the ground that show bodies relative to cars and buildings, and in satellite images, you can see the lumps on the ground in the same position next to the same cars and buildings.
“What the satellite images show is that the bodies were present while the Russians controlled the area,” said Lewis, who is director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
Here’s a list of articles / video reports that do this kind of visual analysis for multiple points within Bucha: matching specific bodies photographed on the ground in Bucha after the Russian withdrawal, with the fuzzy shapes visible in satellite imagery during the time Russia occupied Bucha in March 2022.
- 4 April, 2022 – New York Times
- 5 April, 2022 – Sky News
- 5 April, 2022 – CNN
- 6 April, 2022 – El Pais (video)
- 7 April, 2022 – Deutsche Welle (DW) (video)
- 11 April, 2022 – BBC News
- 13 April, 2022 – Centre for Information Resilience
Conclusion: Upon viewing the original satellite images, it becomes clear why they weren’t initially flagged as showing bodies. The images aren’t high quality enough to identify the shapes in them as bodies using the satellite photos alone.
It is only when combined with the photos of bodies taken on the ground, after the Russian withdrawal, that the nature of the fuzzy shapes seen in the satellite photos becomes apparent.