Ukrainian activists claim to have identified the so-called “Butcher of Bucha,” a decorated Russian commander leading the unit that massacred hundreds of civilians in what is being widely condemned as genocide.
Lt. Col. Azatbek Omurbekov, thought to be around 40, was first identified by InformNapalm, a Ukrainian volunteer group that monitors Russia’s military and special services.
It shared his home address as well as email and telephone number, calling him the “military villain” behind the massacre in Bucha, the suburb of Kyiv where bodies have been left strewn in the street or thrown into mass graves.
The group IDed Omurbekov as leading the 64th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, which the war-torn nation’s Ministry of Defense also blamed online for “committing war crimes” in Bucha.
The decorated military leader was blessed by an Orthodox priest in November, ahead of his deployment to Ukraine, according to the Times of London, which noted his “Butcher of Bucha” nickname.
“History shows that we fight most of our battles with our souls,” Omurbekov reportedly said following the service, which was led by the bishop of Khabarovsk.
“Weapons are not the most important thing. The church is a place where we can take Communion and prepare for the coming events,” he said at the time, according to the UK Times.
“With the blessing of the Almighty, we hope to achieve the same things that our forebears achieved.”
Omurbekov was previously also awarded a medal for outstanding service in 2014 by Dmitry Bulgakov, the deputy Russian defense minister, the UK paper said.
Ukraine’s defense ministry also printed a list of suspected members of the Russian death squad, vowing that “all war criminals will be prosecuted for crimes against the civilians of Ukraine.”
The harrowing scenes of bodies littering Bucha have sparked the greatest condemnation in more than a month of war, with several Western leaders joining Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in calling it genocide.
Zelensky fought back tears as he toured the Kyiv suburb Monday, and highlighted it during his powerful speech to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, accusing Russia of committing “the most terrible war crimes” since World War II.
“These are war crimes, and this will be recognized by the world as genocide,” Zelensky said in Bucha on Monday, adding Russian troops “treated people worse than animals.”
Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov called the Russian troops in Bucha “utterly inhuman” and compared them to Nazis, the UK Times noted.
“This is what the SS troops used to do in the past,” he said. “This evil simply cannot go unpunished. Our intelligence is consistently identifying all invaders and killers. All of them! And each killer will at his own time get what he deserves.”
Despite mounting evidence, Russia continued on Tuesday to deny the massacre, accusing Ukraine of staging the scenes as propaganda to escalate opposition to invading forces.
The Kremlin initially claimed it could not have been Russian forces because they had left Bucha at the end of last month.
However, satellite images released Tuesday showed bodies clearly strewn in the streets as early as March 18, when Russian forces were still there — and meaning some have been there for weeks.
Many of the dead still remain in black bags in 45-foot-long trenches dug as mass graves.
“We brought people here from the streets because the dogs were trying to eat the bodies,” local priest Andriy Holovin told the Telegraph.