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A Ukrainian boy and a murder

BUCHA – When he heard his father die, the boy lay still on the asphalt. His elbow burned where a bullet had pierced him. His thumb burned from the abrasion.

Another murder was afoot on a lonely street in Bucha, the community on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv where civilian bodies are still being discovered weeks after Russian soldiers left. Many had been shot in the head.

14-year-old Yura Nechyporenko was to become one of them.

Survivors have described soldiers firing guns near their feet or threatening them with grenades, only to be dragged away by a cooler colleague. But on that day in March, as Yura and his father, 47-year-old Ruslan, pedaled down a tree-lined street, no one was around to hold the Russian soldier.

They were on their way to visit vulnerable neighbors who were sheltering in basements and homes without electricity or running water. Their bicycles were tied with white cloth as a sign that they traveled in peace.

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When the soldier stepped off a dirt road to challenge them, Yura and his father immediately stopped and raised their hands.

“What you are doing?” Yura remembers that the soldier asked. The soldier did not give Yura’s father time to answer.

The boy heard two shots. His father fell with his mouth open and was already bleeding.

A shot hit Yura’s hand and he too fell. Another shot hit his elbow. He closed his eyes.

A final shot was fired.

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This story is part of an ongoing investigation by The Associated Press and Frontline that includes the War Crimes Watch Ukraine interactive experience and an upcoming documentary.

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Yura’s extraordinary account of an alleged assassination attempt by Russian soldiers stands out as international justice experts arrive in Bucha, a center of horror and possible war crimes in Ukraine. So far, more than 1,000 bodies have been found in Bucha and other communities around Kyiv. According to local authorities, 31 children under the age of 18 were killed and 19 injured in Bucha alone.

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“All the children were killed or injured intentionally, as Russian soldiers deliberately fired on evacuating cars that had ‘CHILDREN’ signs and white fabric on them, and they deliberately fired on the homes of civilians,” said the region’s Attorney General Bucha, Ruslan Kravchenko told the AP.

The UN Human Rights Office says at least 202 children were killed across Ukraine in the Russian invasion and believes the real number is far higher. According to the Ukrainian government, 217 children were killed and over 390 injured.

The AP and Frontline have independently documented 21 attacks that killed children that likely meet the definition of a war crime, drawing on a variety of sources, from the discovery of a child in a shallow grave in Borodyanka to the bombing of a theater in Mariupol. The total number of child casualties in the attacks is unknown, and the tally represents only a fraction of the potential war crimes.

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Yura is a teenager growing into himself, scrawny and mottled, with dark circles under his eyes. Adulthood was rushed to him. As he lies on the floor of his family’s home to demonstrate what happened, he shows the healing holes in his elbow.

His mother Alla takes a deep breath to calm down. Yura sits up, puts an arm around her, and then rests his head on her shoulder.

On that horrific day, Yura survived the attempted murder by the awkward grace of that youthful constant, his gray hoodie. It was shot at in its place, and he felt it move.

Yura then lay on the street for minutes, waiting for the soldier to leave.

Then Yura ran. He reached the kindergarten where his mother worked and where some residents used the basement as a shelter. They were shocked when they saw the boy and gave first aid.

He realized he had to go home. He returned to the street not knowing where the next soldier might be.

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When he got home, his family called the police. The police said there was nothing they could do because they didn’t control the area, the family said. The ambulance said so too.

Police told the family that officers did not know what to do with the case, according to Andriy, the boy’s uncle. A prosecutor’s report briefly describes the killing and attempted murder, including the loss of a mobile phone from Yura’s father. He would have been a help now – he had been a lawyer.

Kravchenko told the AP they are continuing to work on Jura’s case and expressed confidence that crimes committed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine can be successfully investigated. Among other things, recordings from dozens of surveillance cameras in Bucha are being analyzed and an identification album with the faces of Russian soldiers is being created.

In March, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced that investigations into crimes against children in particular would benefit from a new trust fund. Children make up half or more of those affected by conflict, but are often dismissed as too vulnerable to testify or with inaccurate memories, according to Veronique Aubert, the ICC prosecutor’s special adviser on crimes involving children.

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Yura’s case is unusual.

“Prosecutors may want to consider this case because the victim is still alive and may be able to testify,” said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University and a former special counsel for the US Department of Defense. “It can be difficult, if not impossible, for a defendant to claim that they had some right to kill a child.”

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It was left to Yura’s family to recover his father’s body.

They did it the next day. Yura’s grandmother, who is in her 70s, begged Russian soldiers to let her approach the body.

They let her run ahead of them, weapons drawn. Another soldier in the distance shouted, “Don’t come here or we’ll kill you.” But he didn’t shoot.

They brought Yura’s father home in a wheelbarrow. He was rolled in a rug and placed on an old wooden door. Amid the noise of shells and gunfire, they buried him in the yard behind the woodshed in one of the many makeshift graves that were hastily dug during the month-long Russian occupation.

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Yura and his family left Bucha the next day along a rare evacuation corridor. The wounded boy walked the streets first, holding a cane tied with a white towel with a white noose around his arm. The family had to pass the crime scene.

As they approached the evacuation point, Russian soldiers asked where they were going. They asked what happened to Yura.

“I was shot by a Russian soldier,” the boy replied.

Then his mother got scared. “I felt everything inside me collapsing,” she recalled. “I thought they were going to shoot us all.”

She asked the soldiers to let her pass, saying it was getting late. They did.

That day the family left town.

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The gray hoodie, bloodied at the elbow, is now at the heart of the family’s quest for justice. The top seam of the loose fabric has been cut open. Yura’s mother insists it is evidence and must not be thrown away.

The family returned to Bucha in mid-April after the Russians left. They dug up Yura’s father and reburied him in a local cemetery.

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The boy’s family continues to play detective, searching the area of ​​the shooting for more evidence and speculating on theories about the bullets’ trajectory. They interview neighbors and analyze holes in a metal fence.

While the family shows the AP the crime scene, Yura wanders the grass beside the road, head down, looking for shell casings. He is confident of being able to identify the Russian soldier, even though the soldier wore a balaclava over part of his face.

Yura will finish ninth grade this year once power returns and he can resume online classes. Until then, like his father, he volunteers and visits older residents.

His mother is considering sending him abroad because of his mental health. She also needs some distance.

“I’m never alone physically, but it’s possible to be alone mentally,” she said, close to tears. “I try to avoid that.”

Her son’s case is still a faint glimmer of hope. There are courts and these courts will work, she believes. No one should go through what their son did.

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Yura fears they already have.

“I’m not the only one who wants justice,” he said. “Possibly people are still being tortured and killed in Ukraine now.”

Yura turned 15 on April 12. It was a quiet birthday. His father, a good cook, usually grilled to celebrate.

On April 25, the day after Orthodox Easter, the family gathered again at the tomb to celebrate the 40th day after Ruslan’s death, as was the local custom. Food blessed by a priest in Bucha at Easter – dyed eggs, bread – was laid out along with homemade pickles, chocolate and wine. A plastic bag with groceries was hung on the wooden cross.

Yura stood aside, quietly lit a candle and placed it on the grave. Then he pulled a hoodie, a black one, over his head to block out the cold.

The boy’s uncle, Andriy, is watching him closely these days. Yura has always been a good boy, but he’s become nervous and restless, shifting from one task to another. Andriy fears that the trauma of surviving death will catch up with Yura and grieves for his nephew’s marred childhood.

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“It tears my soul apart,” said Andriy through tears. “What we are seeing is sorrow upon sorrow… (Russian President Vladimir) Putin simply chooses to make us suffer, and we do.”

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Frontline Producer Tom Jennings contributed to this story.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/12/this-tears-my-soul-apart-a-ukrainian-boy-and-a-killing/ A Ukrainian boy and a murder

Joel McCord

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