Bucha Massacre: City's Member of Parliament Asks Israel to Join Sanctions

Olga Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk, who represents the devastated city in Ukraine's parliament, adds that Ukrainians understand Israel's concerns about Russia's presence in Syria, 'but there is a human dimension as well'

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, in Bucha, Ukraine, on Monday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, in Bucha, Ukraine, on Monday. Credit: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

The legislator for Bucha, the Kyiv suburb where the bodies of murdered civilians were found after Russian troops withdrew, believes there are still hundreds, perhaps thousands, more bodies to be found and that thousands more of the region’s residents have been sent out of Ukraine to Russian “filitration camps.”

She also called on Israeli companies to stop doing business with Russia.

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MP Olga Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk is currently visiting Israel in a Ukrainian delegation trying to drum up support from the Israeli government and public. She is deputy for the electoral district north of Kyiv that includes Bucha as well as the towns of Slavutych, Borodianka, Vyshhorod and Ivankiv, all of which were under Russian occupation for the past month,

“Nearly everyone in the district has my phone number,” she said. “For the past month I’ve been constantly answering relatives of people whose families live in Bucha and other parts of the region, trying to find out what has happened to them.”

Nearly 200,000 people live in the district, about two-thirds of whom escaped either before the Russian invasion or during the occupation. A week ago the Russian army, which failed to realize its objective of encircling the Ukrainian capital, retreated back to the Belarusian border, leaving piles of bodies in its wake.

“During the Russian occupation, they shut off the electricity that came from the power plants at Chernobyl that they captured, and the phone communication was also cut off for three days,” Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk said.

Ukrainian MP Olga Vasilevskaya-SmaglyukCredit: Alexandr Kuzmin/UNIAN

Most of this information came from people who managed to escape the region and reach Kyiv over the past month. It is now being confirmed by survivors who hid during the occupation, and from physical evidence – the bodies left behind. But many details, especially the whereabouts of thousands of civilians, are still unknown.

“We still don’t know what happened to many of the people who were left behind. There are reports that in Borodianka alone, there are over 500 people buried under the rubble,” she added.

“Now we know that many were murdered, but only a few of the bodies have been identified so far and there’s the possibility that the Russians used mobile crematoria to dispose of some of the bodies. There are also many reports of people being kidnapped, as many as 7,000, who are believed to have been taken by the Russians to filitration camps.”

The term “filitration” first came into use in Russia in the 1990s to describe the mass interment camps set up by the Russian authorities during the First Chechen War. Thousands of civilians from the war zones were taken there. According to human rights groups, many people were tortured in these camps, and some were executed.

According to reports Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk has received from her constituents, “the Russians were looking in particular for the family members, parents, wives and children of Ukrainian soldiers to murder,” she said.

Technicians trying to fix internet equipment in Bucha on Tuesday.Credit: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk added that of the possible war crimes now coming to light, “thousands of cases of rape have been reported so far. Any girl who left her hiding place was raped and then shot. But the victims who survived are still just beginning to come out and their first priority is to finally get medical treatment and eat something. The process of reporting and beginning a judicial prosecution will then come, but we are still just at the beginning. We plan to prosecute everyone involved in these war crimes.”

In the meantime, Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk is carrying on with her mission in Israel. “I know that Israelis are very aware and concerned about what is happening in Ukraine,” she said.

“And I want to keep it that way because I know you have many other issues of your own, like the recent terror attacks, which are leaving less room in the Israeli media for coverage of Ukraine. It’s important for us that Israelis know that we are now starting to face the terror they have been fighting against for many years.”

As a Jewish-Ukrainian with extensive family in Israel, Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk is a Hebrew-speaker and has spent significant stretches in the country. She is aware of Israelis’ different perspectives.

“What is happening now in Ukraine is a genocide,” she said. “And I know Israelis don’t like it when that word is used because it invites comparisons to the Holocaust, but they have to understand that the Holocaust also began with things like we’re seeing now in Ukraine.”

Over the last few days the Ukrainian delegation has met with Israeli officials including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who promised that Israel would not serve as a sanctuary for Kremlin-linked Russian oligarchs.

Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk stressed that while Ukraine is still eager to receive “defensive weapons” from Israel, “the most important thing for us is that Israel joins the sanctions against Russia. Israeli companies are still doing business with Russia. We really want that to stop.”

A body is carried at a school in Bucha on Monday.Credit: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP

She said she isn’t surprised or even disappointed that Israel hasn’t rushed to impose sanctions on Russia so far. “We would expect and like to see more, but we also understand Israel’s situation,” she said.

“Israel has Russia just across its border in Syria and needs to continue cooperating with it for Israel’s security. We understand that Israelis have to think first of all about Israeli security, but there is a human dimension to this as well and there needs to be a clearer Israeli position.”

She said she “felt shame” about the statements by Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who refused to accuse Russia of war crimes in Bucha and merely said that there were “mutual accusations.”

“It seems to me that some Israeli politicians, like politicians in other countries, are financed by Russia,” Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk said. “Look, I’m a politician as well and I know that politics is a dirty business and there isn’t much room for humanity in it. But Israelis really have to understand – if they swallow the Russian hook, sooner or later they will be swallowed by Russia as well.”

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