Tradition of mass killings of civilians by Russian troops through history

A woman stands near a ruined house, Lubyanka village, Kyiv region, Ukraine. April 2022. (Credit: Maksym Khotilenko)

Russian troops have a longstanding ‘modus operandi’ of threatening and punishing civilian populations in foreign military campaigns across Europe - from the early 18th century through the Napoleonic wars, up until the recent Russian massacres in Bucha, Irpin and other Ukrainian cities, writes Ukrainian journalist and editor Serhiy Kariuk. Kariuk is also an author of historical fiction (‘The Kremenets beast’, ‘Tarana’, ‘Impure blood’, ‘Feriya’). The article is strongly supported by historical documents.


Dozens of residents of Bucha and Irpin were reportedly killed by “flechettes”, (metal darts embedded in explosives, used extensively in WW1), which were dropped on civilians from Russian military planes. This is just one of dozens of similar reports in recent months. The Russian army is turning peaceful Ukrainian cities into deserts. This is a well-established Russian military tradition, seen in past military campaigns.

“Terrible massacre”, “All Ukraine in blood”, “Women and children on sabre blades”.

These were the headlines of the French newspapers Lettre Historique, Mercure Historique et Politique, Gazette de France and Paris Gazette in 1708.

The French were writing about the massacre in Baturyn, (a historic town in Chernihiv Oblast of northern Ukraine). Russian Tsar Peter the Great ordered the town to be razed to the ground. At the time it was the capital of renowned Ukrainian ruler Hetman Ivan Mazepa. The Russians killed between 11,000 and 15,000 civilians, children, women and the elderly.

Execution by wheeling, which was applied to the Cossacks and the inhabitants of Baturyn. Engraving from the time of Peter I. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)

One hundred years passed and the French had confirmation of the brutality of Russian troops, based on their own experience. In 1814, Russian troops joined allied forces invading France. Historian Henry Houssaye collected evidence of atrocities. Hundreds of eyewitnesses mentioned them :

“... Men were beaten with swords and stabbed with bayonets. Naked, bedridden, they had to be present during the violence against their wives and daughters. Others were tortured, beaten, and roasted until they opened their hiding places. Priests of Montlond and Rolampon were beaten to death on the spot… In Busy le Lon the Cossacks set fire to the legs of a servant left to guard the castle…”

The artist depicts the defence of Paris on the 30th of March 1814. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository)

The invasion experienced by the shocked French was already a hallmark of Russian troops. Twenty years earlier, they had slaughtered civilians on the outskirts of the Polish capital, Warsaw.

“… Our soldiers broke into houses, killed everyone they came across… Cruelty and thirst for revenge reached their peak… officers were unable to stop the bloodshed… our soldiers shot at crowds indiscriminately…”

This is what Russian officer von Klugen later mentioned (taken from memoirs of Thaddeus Bulgarin).

A trail of murder, looting and rape has always accompanied the Russian and later the Red Army. In addition to battlefield victories over the Nazis, the latter became infamous for the killings of civilians - one of the largest in history - in East Prussia in 1945, (the Red Army replicating the ferocity of the Nazi invasion, in spades).

This was repeated later  – in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Syria. The barbaric "military traditions" of the Russians continued in the twenty-first century. And that is how the horror of thousands of deaths in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka and dozens of other Ukrainian towns and villages became possible…