In the first days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces occupied Bucha, and during the occupation more than 400 people – mostly civilians – were killed. Photographic evidence of the massacre emerged on 1 April 2022, after Russian forces withdrew from the city. Many bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs, and other victims appeared to have been shot while going about their daily routines, carrying shopping bags, or riding bicycles. Ukraine has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Bucha.
The bodies of 119 of the victims were buried on 10 March 2022 in a mass grave in the grounds of the St Andrew Orthodox Church, of which 115 were civilians including 30 women and two children. Later, after the liberation of Bucha, the bodies were exhumed for forensic examination, and subsequently reburied by their families.
The story of this tragedy was told to the WCC delegation by local parish priest Father Andrii Halavin, and by the terrible images in the photographic exhibition in the church. “We hear the cries of despair, of those who were killed and of those who have seen their loved ones killed,” said Bedford-Strohm during a prayer. “Let us all not surrender to hate but overcome hate by love.”
Outside in the grounds, prayers were offered for the dead at a memorial on the site of the mass grave, including by a representative of the Muslim community of Ukraine, a member of UCCRO. Representatives of all UCCRO’s member churches took part in the ecumenical prayer service inside the church. Participants joined in praying for people threatened by war in Ukraine, and for the establishment of a just peace.
Intercessions were offered to “open the hearts of the world,” to “boldly confront evil,” and for “those with responsibility in the world’s governments to strive and work for peace in Ukraine and wherever there is conflict.”
Participants petitioned God to “preserve us from the arbitrariness of the powerful of this world and lead them to recognize their limits that they may find ways towards peace and put an end to the loss of life and the senselessness of war.”
“Soften the hearts of those who have hardened them and let us return to the knowledge of your wisdom. Grant us courage to respond to the cry of the church and people in Ukraine. In the midst of ongoing conflict, grant physical, emotional, social and economic healing to our world.”
Pillay said: “All of these people have been killed because of the incidence of war. We are deeply grieved by what we see. We are brought into the realization of the devastation caused by war and it greatly pains us. The leaders of the WCC stands here grieved by what we see caused by this unnecessary war. Our prayer to God and the call to the world is to stop the war.”