French police investigate Bucha’s mass grave – Expat Guide to France

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A French police officer sends a drone into the sky in Bucha, near kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, to photograph a 14-meter-long grave where 70 bodies were found.

A team of 18 experts from the French National Gendarmerie’s forensic service have been working for two days already to examine and identify those buried in the largest mass grave discovered to date in the devastated city.

Usually, they work in France on the scenes of crimes, natural disasters or road accidents.

Now they are part of a careful operation in areas once occupied by Russian forces that could help piece together a case at the International Criminal Court.

Dressed in white coveralls or navy blue uniforms and face masks to ward off the stench of death, French officers extract three bodies wrapped in black plastic from the trench in just under an hour.

Each was then placed on an examination table out of sight by a white tent bearing the logo of the gendarmerie.

Inside, six French investigators carried out the first examination.

Their mission is to determine the possible date and probable cause of death: shooting, explosion, fire or even natural death.

At this stage, it involves visual examination, capturing photographs and videos, and taking DNA samples.

This preliminary work lasts 30 minutes.

Between each exhumation, the French gendarmes take breaks to drink water or get some fresh air in consultation with their Ukrainian colleagues providing logistics and security.

Each corpse is then put back in a body bag and transported in a refrigerated truck for autopsy in a specialized institute.

A mobile French DNA lab stationed nearby will identify those found with samples taken from relatives.

Then, it must be established whether the bodies bear traces of acts that could constitute war crimes.

All the elements they collect will then be used to help local and international investigations.

– Hundreds of bodies discovered –

The violence in Bucha has become synonymous with allegations of brutality inflicted under Russian occupation.

Residents buried the bodies themselves during the bloody siege by the Russian army, which withdrew on March 30 after a month of occupation.

After they left, at least 20 bodies of men dressed in civilian clothes, some with their hands tied, were found strewn in the streets.

Since then, several mass graves have been discovered.

Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk says more than 400 bodies have been found since the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Bucha’s murders drew horrified condemnation around the world and prompted kyiv’s allies to impose new sanctions on Russia.

The site of the mass grave where the French officers are working was chosen for its proximity to the local church and morgue, parish priest Andriy Holovin told AFP.

“Seventy bodies were found, mostly civilians, as well as those of a policeman and two soldiers,” said Ukrainian prosecutor Ruslan Kravchenko.

In a separate grave, marked with a makeshift cross, the bodies of a woman and two children aged 4 and 11 were also exhumed, he added.

“According to initial findings, these are the bodies of a family whose vehicle burned after being hit by a Russian armored vehicle,” he said.

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