“Bucha massacre isnʼt some soldiersʼ mistake, but a planned genocide against Ukrainians.” Volunteerʼs testimony. Napalm podcast, Ep.11. Text version

Yevhen Spirin
Dmytro Rayevskyi
“Bucha massacre isnʼt some soldiersʼ mistake, but a planned genocide against Ukrainians.” Volunteerʼs testimony. Napalm podcast, Ep.11. Text version


Napalm is a series of podcasts about photographers, journalists, cooks, pharmacists, servicemen, doctors, saleswomen, and programmers. In short, this is a series of podcasts about Ukrainians experiencing war, about the everyday life of our country, heroically resisting the Russian invasion. We want to hear the voices of our citizens, their stories about everyday and not-so-everyday life, and we want our listeners to hear those voices as well. Volunteer Mykola Strebkov documents the killings by Russian military residents of Bucha, Irpin and settlements in Kyiv Oblast during the occupation which lated from February 24 to April 1. Strebkov says that the Russians had previously imported 45,000 packages for corpses in oblast. This indicates that the killings of locals were planned, and the decision to exterminate Ukrainians in the occupied territories was made by the General Staff of the Russian Federation. In addition, a few weeks before the war Russia adopted a new state standard on how to properly bury people in mass graves and pack them in bags. This issue of the Napalm podcast is about genocide, Russian lossws in the war, and a future international tribunal.

Friends, hello. Today is another issue of our Napalm podcast. Mykola Strebkov is visiting us today. As he himself said, he is first and foremost an engineer and secondly a volunteer. Mykola, hello. Thank you for coming to us today. Tell me, how did the war catch you, where were you, what did you do? Letʼs talk about February 24.

February 24 caught me in bed at home. I was sleeping. At first, some incomprehensible objects flew over my house. Then I heard explosions. I knew the day before that it would start at 4 or 5 in the morning. And I have known since 2016 or so that there will be a war. I ran to everyone and told them that as soon as Russians complete Nord Stream-2, we will see an escalation in February. So when the accumulation of [the Russian] equipment and people started [near Ukrainian border] in December, when the Russians started to draw units from the Far East to our borders, I took it very seriously. At the end of January, my family and I went abroad, then returned to Ukraine for just a few days, and then I finally sent them abroad. And I stayed in Kyiv to wait for all this to start. And kept going to work.

Many people who saw the maps in the Western media didnʼt take it very seriously. Because it seemed to everyone that it was stupid to attack from all sides. It was easier for you, probably when it all started.

Not only did I take this scenario seriously, I was prepared for the fact that as soon as they complete the Nord Stream-2, a second military campaign would begin. For some reason this is not very common knowledge, but the only thing our former president, Mr. Poroshenko, stopped the Russian offensive in January 2015, when there were talks around Debaltseve, with is the threat that if Russia moves a little further, we will blow up gas pipelines and gas storage facilities. And we will leave without gas not only ourselves, but also Western Europe. Only then did Ms. Merkel took her ass off the stool and rushed to Minsk with [former French President Francois] Hollande for talks. At that time, the gas factor was crucial. When Russians started pumping Nord Stream-2, when they built it, pumped in technical gas, all the German talk that they might not certify it became useless. Because itʼs winter, and they have a real pipe through which real gas can pass.

Two months before the war, we publisned the news that Russia had adopted burial standards and purchased 50,000 plastic bags for corpses. We all thought they bought bags for their soldiers. It caused a smile at that time. Letʼs talk about these bags and about state standards.

A new state standard for mass burials was adopted in Russia on September 21 last year. That is, almost the same week when the Russians completed Nord Stream-2. I think itʼs a coincidence, but a significant one. This standard necame active only on February 2 this year ― two days before the Chinese Olympics started and three weeks before the invasion. I was at the mass graves to check how they meet Russian standards. They do not meet them. I was in Bucha, I was in Andriyivka village [in Bucha district]. But it is not a compliance with standards that plays the key role to the readiness of the enemy country for mass casualties. They [Russians] were really preparing for the mass casualties in our territories, for the killing of our people. They were ready for mass burials of corpses. After all that has happened in Mariupol now, with the amount of housing that has been leveled to the ground, there, firstly, many houses have already become mass graves, and secondly, when they start cleaning the city, they will start getting bodies, and they need to dispose of them.

They are already doing this if you see satellite images.

Yes. So the standard was adopted very timely. And now it is clear why they prepared it. Now about 45 thousand body bags. This information came out two days before the invasion at a briefing either by the head of the Security Service of Ukraine in Kharkiv, or by his deputy, I donʼt remember for sure. And everyone laughed then as well. I talked to my friends from the army who are quite high-level officers. They told me that when a military operation is planned, a certain allowable level of losses is always planned.

What losses?

Among their own troops. That is, if we have a certain group that has to attack, we set for ourselves the level of losses that we are ready to suffer. And this level of losses almost never exceeds 5%. But there is a nuance: 5% is the so-called irreversible loss. That is, killed combatants. Military statistics also state that for every one killed, there are three wounded. That is, we have 5% of irreversible losses and there are sanitary losses, which are three times more. Together it is about 20% of the personnel. This is what is usually planned. Now we take these 45,000 bags. If, as our journalists have hinted, these bags were intended for the Russian military, it would mean that the Russian General Staff plans an irreparable loss of 22.5%, as the invasion group was 200 thousand militaries. If we divide 45 thousand by 200 thousand and multiply by 100, we get 22.5%. And 22.5% of irreparable losses, if we add the wounded, it would mean that the Russian General Staff plans a total loss of 90%. No military institution will plan such losses among their troops. Never. This is the first thing.

Secondly, we have a lot of evidence that Russians didnʼt plan to fight at all, by and large. They planned to conduct a "special military operation”. They expected to finish us in 3-4 days. They thought that in a few more weeks they would crush the resistance. And after that they will start to establish their regime here. They will replace our president and government, and weʼll all start living in Russian barrack. They didnʼt even plan the number of irreparable losses at 20%. Accordingly, these bags were not intended for the Russian military.

But could these bags, for example, be intended for the Ukrainian military? If they thought they would reach Kyiv in two days, could their stupid command say that "take the corpses of Ukrainian servicemen in sacks and move them out?" Or you still think it was for civilians? Because if so, what can it be called, except as genocide?

If we assume that these 45 thousand were for the Ukrainian military, then we must conclude from this: the Russians expected that the Armed Forces of Ukraine would resist fiercely and suffer losses of 45 thousand. And 45,000 irreparable losses means 180,000 total losses. That is, 45 thousand bags for the bodies of Ukrainian Armed Forcesʼ fighters would mean that the Russians planned to destroy virtually all of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In combat clashes. But, first, the duration of such combat clashes is definitely not 2-4 days, not even a few weeks. As of now, even Russiaʼs losses are about 20 thousand. That is, they could not plan 45 thousand even for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Because that would mean that they donʼt come here in a parade. And they planned to come here in a parade.

Letʼs note: they came here with sacks, and they had a task ― to kill civilians and bury them according to the Russian state standard. Canʼt you just go into the village and shoot the whole village? Are there any criteria?

Depending on the size of the village. You can.

That is, there was no selective principle for whom these bags are intended?

No, I think there was a selection. First, a few days before the invasion, the United States envoy to the UN Office in Geneva wrote a letter to the Geneva Office of Human Rights expressing concern that the Russians were compiling lists of Ukrainians for extermination. Our public organization tries to get any background information on this topic from the American side. This conclusion was made by the Americans, of course, on the basis of some [classified] intelligence. so I estimate our chances of getting more information about these lists are quite low. But after the invasion, when information about the killed, tortured and executed civilians became public, the head of British intelligence MI-6 also spoke publicly and said that they also had information that the Russians were going to kill the civilian population. The lists that the Americans talked about, the very compilation of these lists requires certain criteria. We have 40 million citizens, and to add a person to the list, you need some criteria, right? This is the first moment.

The second moment. When you compile these lists and you have criteria, you can expect that while being in Russia, you will not be able to include all the people who fall under the criteria. But you bring these criteria to the occupied territory and start filtering people there.

There are locals who directly help in the formation of the shortlist. Who cooperate with the Russians and hand over activists and volunteers.

This is one of the factors the Russians had hoped for in the invasion. Less than 1% of people are enough to establish a fairly strict control over the territory. Those who are locals and will help to start these filtering military-police activities. In almost every village you can find a jerk who will help either because of some personal beliefs, or for money, or simply because he ir she is a jerk. Or because of being…

A little offended.

Right. This is a classic approach, because thatʼs what the Germans did during World War II, thatʼs what the [Soviet] Red Army did. If you read the literature of Soviet military leaders, which Iʼve read a lot, all these methods are described there. These are well-known methods among the military. You can find a jerk to rely on in any society.

But there is a fundamental difference between the civilized world and Russia. Establishing military-police control over the territory always involves filtration measures. The United States during World War II, immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, counted its Japanese who officially lived in the territory, and realized that they couldnʼt treat everyone in terms of counterintelligence. So they simply gathered them in concentration camps and kept them there until the end of the war. After the war was won the Japanese were released. We also can take the example of Allied troops in Europe when they entered German territory. There were also concentration and filtration camps. They gathered local civilians, took those who worked in the SS, in concentration camps, and so on. And released the rest. These are filtration measures. The Russians came here not to carry out filtration measures. They came here to kill. Knowing in advance that they will kill people not for what they did, but for who they were. From a legal point of view, this is one of the signs of genocidal intent.

There is another difference. In Bucha, it all started right away. Murders began on Vokzalna Street, for example. And in Kherson at first there was nothing like that, even when the occupiers entered the city. Remember, there were [anti-occupational] rallies. Whatʼs the difference, why did it happen like that? Was it somehow geographically divided? Is it just the difference between the groups that came in?

The key phrase here is "at first". If you look at the situation in Kherson now, more than 100 people have been abducted there ― and these are the only ones we know about. Most likely, they are already dead. But Kherson was occupied by the Russians without super-heavy fighting.

Without fighting, actually.

Right. They occupied Kherson relatively easily. Thatʼs why the [Russian] soldier there is not burning with a desire for revenge, they are calmer there. Because what really happened in Bucha and in the north [of Ukraine], and why is the entire officer corps of the invading forces responsible for these crimes? They knew they would be involved in extrajudicial killings here. One or more FSB officers were assigned to each army unit. Their task was to determine the people to be killed or isolated. And they were responsible for this process. But the presence of such an officer means that other officers in this unit knew that they were accompanied by FSB who would be specifically responsible for the killing of civilians. Moreover, Iʼm sure that the FSB officers didnʼt shoot people themselves. They just poked their fingers [at the needed persons].

Sure, why bother if they have others to do it.

And so the [Russian] unit enters the territory, suffers losses.

From the first minute.

Yes. They stop, and they have a desire for revenge. Commanders allow them to drink a little for courage. They do this. And they begin, in fact, to compensate their fear [on those who canʼt defend themselves]. Various psychopathic tendencies, multiplied by the desire for revenge, heated by alcohol. And we have what we have.

The question was why they were knocking down the poles. Just poles for the street lighting. It turned out that those poles had solar panels. Russians didnʼt like the fact that the lanterns were powered by solar panels.

We can speculate about intentions as much as we want. But the fact is that a lot of things were destroyed in the occupied territories just because they were there, and only because Russians couldnʼt take them with themselves.

But I want to return to the officer corps of the invading army. When their soldiers started killing and raping, they knew that no one would be punished. The officer corps did not in any way stop or punish their own subordinates for committing war crimes. In addition, given the standards for mass burials, given the 45 thousand bags for bodies and given the mobile crematoria, although this is a bit of a separate topic, but still. Having all the tools at their disposal to hide the results of what happened…

I think you know better, is this myth or not. When the army or a group takes a village or a city and their commanders say, "You have about five minutes of looting," how true is that?

Yes, the ancient Greek warriors, the Roman Empire army had such methods of encouragement. It was the practice that all males over the age of four [found on the occupied territory] were killed. And those under the age of four were taken into slavery. Women were taken into slavery. And the city was looted. But over two thousand years have passed since then. And in the last 500 years, states around the world have come to the conclusion that war must be waged according to the rules. Surprisingly, even the Russian Federation agreed to this and signed a number of documents on the subject. But the agreements with Russia are not worth even the paper on which they were written. Accordingly, here we see the neglect of both human lives and international commitments. We see stupid demons who think that having nuclear weapons adds more rights for them.

How would you see the punishment and restoration of justice in this situation?

Iʼm a simple person, I just need to see their corpses. And I think thatʼs a very realistic goal. Either bring them to justice officially, or kill them. Specific people were involved in the planning of war crimes in Ukraine. That is, there are people who are directly responsible for the fact that many civilians died here. But much more guilty are those who decided to break the resistance here not by filtration measures, but by destruction. Who decided to kneel locals, tie their hands behind their backs and shoot a bullet in the head. This is a small group of people who can be reached as a result of a proper investigation. At first, it simply can be the publishing of their names. Then we have to tell the whole world that these are not just war criminals, not soldiers from a remote village. But army officers.

High-level officers.

Yes. In Russian society, such an officer is an aristocrat. You represent the elite of this society. And you say: to break the resistance of Ukrainians, we will kill people, we will rape women, we will kill children in front of their mothers. Itʼs you who makes this decision. And you continue to instruct people in accordance with this decision, appoint FSB officers to army units, knowing what it will end up in. These people can be identified. And when they are identified, the whole world will be told that these people planned this horror. I am sure that it will free the hands of many people. Russian society isnʼt as monolithic as Russian propaganda wants to show it. Even now, we, not a really well-known organization, have already managed to get help from Russian citizens.

In identification?


Do you have an action plan for the short or long term? What will you do next?

First of all, weʼll register our public organization as a legal entity. We are officially cooperating with the Ukrainian Security Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Prosecutorʼs Office. And with the investigators who came to Ukraine to help us. Next, we plan to fully assist this investigation financially and informationally. And make sure that it does not suddenly die in our thickets. Because, unfortunately, our state machine has a relatively short memory. And here I am very inspired by the example of the Myrotvorets project. Despite all the nuances, this is now a database of more than 250 thousand people involved in the attempt to dismantle the Ukrainian state. And these people [who tortured and killed Ukrainians] need to be remembered and brought to justice. Information about them should be shared with the world. And I see our immediate action as a formal public organization that will be another element of our national memory. And not only ours. There is the slogan "Never again", with which Europe commemorates every anniversary of the end of World War II.

But it happens again, you see.

Yes, it should not just be said. This principle needs to be worked on systematically. And bringing to justice people who allowed themselves to plan the killing, rape, torture of civilians is just a direct step towards truly "never again."

Thank you very much for agreeing to talk. Mykola Strebkov, a volunteer, engineer, was with us, and he has an important project and mission. You can listen to us on all platforms that are convenient for you: Apple, Megogo, and Google Podcast. This was our next issue, today we talked about the planned mass killings of civilians in Bucha, Irpшn, Borodyanka and other settlements occupied by Russian soldiers.

Thank you for the invitation.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.