In a display of hope and defiance after a year of brutality and trauma, a Christmas tree has been erected in the center of the city of Bucha, Ukraine.
“A Christmas tree was set up in Bucha, Kyiv suburb that survived the horrors of Russian occupation this year,” Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, tweeted on Dec. 12.
“Before installing it, Bucha residents were polled about this,” he added. “Most of them were in favor of the tree. They deserve it!”
The Christmas tree has since had its lights switched on, and was installed on the same day that Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin was sentenced to 8.5 years imprisonment by Moscow after condemning Russia for committing war crimes in Bucha – accusations the Kremlin, despite a wealth of evidence, continues to deny.
After Russian forces withdrew from the city in April, mass graves accompanied by video and photographic evidence emerged, with 458 bodies so far recovered, including nine children.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights documented a series of unlawful killings and summary executions of innocent civilians, with forensic evidence proving that many had been lined up with their hands tied behind their backs before being shot at point-blank range.
Talking to Human Rights Watch (HRW) following the retreat of Russian troops, Bucha residents recounted widespread rape, torture, and other human rights abuses carried out by Russian soldiers.
“Russian soldiers went door to door, questioning people, destroying their possessions and looting their clothes to wear for themselves,” HRW reported. “Civilians were fired upon when leaving their homes for food and water and would be ordered back into their homes by Russian troops, despite a lack of basic necessities such as water and heat due to the destruction of local infrastructure.
“There were also reports that Russian armed vehicles would arbitrarily fire into buildings in the city and that Russian troops refused medical aid to injured civilians. A mass grave was dug for local victims, and the troops carried out extrajudicial executions.”
Eight months since the horrors they were forced to endure, the citizens of Bucha are still repairing their homes and trying to return to normality, with the city’s new Christmas tree a small yet symbolic gesture of resilience about a more hopeful future.
“It’s an amazing tree,” one Twitter user commented. “I wish them a peaceful, loving and healing Christmas.”
“I don’t know what I love most about this,” wrote another, “that it was offered, that residents were polled first, that resident’ spirits have healed enough to accept, or that it was delivered and decorated. One thing I’m not is surprised. Ukrainians have pulled together like no other.”
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