In Ukraine's Bucha where civilians slain, neighbours united in grief

By Anna Voitenko and Yurii Muraviov

BUCHA, Ukraine (Reuters) - In Bucha, the town synonymous with Russian brutality during the war in Ukraine, two neighbours whose loved ones were killed in different parts of the country met at the local cemetery Friday to grieve and reflect as the conflict entered its second year.

Bucha lies just to the northwest of Kyiv, and was quickly occupied by Russian forces as they invaded from neighbouring Belarus and reached the gates of the capital.

They were eventually forced to retreat, and in early April media images of the carnage they left behind shocked the world. The bodies of civilians littered pavements and roads, some with hands tied behind their backs.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of war crimes in Bucha, an allegation the Kremlin denies. It has claimed images of dead bodies on Bucha's streets were fake, and characterises the war as a special operation to nullify the threat its neighbour poses.

Alla Nechyporenko, 50, visited her husband's grave where she kissed his photograph and cried.

She told Reuters that he was shot dead at a Russian checkpoint on March 17 when he and their 14-year-old son Yurii had gone to collect humanitarian aid for the family.

A soldier also shot Yurii in the arm, Nechyporenko added, but he survived, and managed to reach the kindergarten where she taught.

"When an innocent person's life is taken before your own eyes, when someone aims at a child, you just ask 'Why? What for? You try to understand what that person is thinking; if that person can actually feel," she said in her home in Bucha.

"How can this happen in a civilized world? To be shot as you walk down the street?"

Her mother-in-law went to recover the body the following day and they buried him temporarily in the back yard.

Reuters could not independently verify her account.

Nechyporenko recently visited The Hague where she had been invited by a U.S. organisation to describe her ordeal along with others from Ukraine.

"I just came back from the Netherlands, where people are so carefree. They get pleasure out of life. They are happy while we are in constant fear for our children and our country."

In an adjacent section of the same cemetery, where fallen soldiers are buried, Nechyporenko met her neighbour Tetiana Shonia, who was standing next to her son's grave. The friends embraced and wept on the first anniversary of Russia's invasion into Ukraine.

"It's so hard to bury your own child," Shonia sobbed. "The thought that he won't come back or talk again is horrible."

The son, Oleksii Zavadskyi, was killed in fighting near the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

Earlier in the day, a priest blessed the dead at the graveyard and a small crowd gathered to lay flowers and mourn together.

The mayor of Bucha has said more than 400 civilians were killed there by Russian forces, including dozens whose bodies lay untended for weeks on and alongside Yablunska, or Apple Street.

Those scenes are now erased from view, and the street looks like any other - a road with grass banks and walled gardens surrounding neat suburban homes.

(Additional reporting by Stefaniia Bern; Writing by Mike Collett-White; editing by Diane Craft)