Mariupol & Bucha: Narrative v Reality

Who shot at the civilian humanitarian corridors in Mariupol? What really happened in Bucha? How to use critical thinking and game theory principles to sift through BS and separate reality from narratives.

Mariupol & Bucha: Narrative v Reality
Natalia Usmanova, Woman From Azovstal

This article requires free email subscription. If you want to support us, get a premium subscription for one of two prices—your choice which, both give equal benefits.

In this piece, I'll apply our "dirty dozen" principles for critical and strategic thinking to the question of what happened in Mariupol and Bucha.

We'll use exclusively the information provided in the Western mainstream media and Ukrainian media (plus some Al Jazeera) and public channels of Ukrainian far-right. This is a purposeful handicap I chose such that nobody can write this off as "Russian propaganda". I mean, some can try, and good luck to them.

On the question of the shooting at Mariupol humanitarian corridors, we'll look at:

  • The incentives of the attacking army to have civilians at the place of the siege;

  • The incentives of the "defending" army to have civilians at the place of the siege;

  • The profiles and history of the "defenders" of Mariupol versus the defenders of Donbass (branded "rebels" in the Western mainstream media);

  • A brief history of the 2014 Maidan coup as a minority but violent movement (based on the research by the Ukrainian media at the time, subsequent academic peer-reviewed research, as well as the direct statements by the participating far-right leaders);

  • Evidence of Kyiv forces using civilians as human shield provided through:

    • UN and Amnesty International reports;

    • direct quotes of Zelensky and other Kyiv officials in the Western and Ukrainian media;

  • Eyewitness reports in the Western media (including the doctored ones from the Western media, which is easily provable).

On the question of the Bucha war crimes, we'll look at:

  • The track record of the Ukrainian far-right in staging false flag massacres going back to 2014 Maidan mass murder of 100 protestors (provable beyond any reasonable doubt in peer-reviewed academic papers, one by Canadian-Ukrainian academic);

  • The incentives of the Russian forces to institute terror on the "captured" territories;

  • The incentives, intent, and follow-through by the Kyiv forces to exact retribution for "collaborationism" (stated point-blank in quotes by the Kyiv officials and the far-right to the Western and Ukrainian media);

  • Track record of the far-right kill lists and SBU extra-judicial killings evidenced by Amnesty International;

  • Kyiv releasing convicted war criminals from prisons;

  • Laws enacted by Kyiv that prohibit saying non-negative things about Russian military and encouraging civilian combatants;

  • Further proof of the severely one-sided Western media narrative bias against Russia, including easily debunked "fact checks" by the Western media.

There's a strong case to be made that in both instances, the crimes in question had been perpetrated by somebody associated with the Kyiv regime, rather than the Russian troops.

To be honest, I entered this research being a sceptic in early 2022, my first draft in July 2022 was a bit more balanced, but in light of the latest evidence from late 2022 and early 2023 (provable politically-motivated censure of academic works, disappearance of YouTube videos, and AP/PBS "investigation") I am convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that the cumulative evidence points to one conclusion only.

The vast majority of this article had been written in July 2022; the Conclusion section had been re-written in light of the new evidence after July 2022. I highlight in-text where I added major revisions / additions in January 2023.

Read to find out the details. This post is long and detailed.

Support us by becoming a paid subscriber.

A Dirty Dozen (Thinking Principles)
How I process information: a dozen principles. This piece builds on the NY Times Disinformation article and expands the principles I apply when processing information.



This is the fourth entry in our series on geopolitics and propaganda, using the Ukraine conflict as an example.

  1. See 2022 and 11/12-ths for more of my personal background and why you should listen to me (hint: it involves an advice from an HBR article).[1]
  1. The second entry deals with the inability to trust media, using the example of the New York Times: NY Times: Disinformation Central? Or: How I Lost Trust in the Western Mainstream Media and What to Do About It—where we show the lies presented as fact, sudden changes of the narrative, and examples of NY Times participating in an anti-Russia smear campaign presenting unprovable statements as fact.

  2. Our third entry deals with how to apply critical thinking and game theoretic principles to better process information: A Dirty Dozen (Thinking Principles): How I Process Information.

Having established the bias and outright lies in the Western mainstream media, as well as the principles to use to help us counter these, I now turn to a central premise of this entry: two example applications of these principles. Given that we cannot (completely) trust any source, how do we figure out what is truth and what is fiction? When faced with multiple explanations, how do we figure out which one is the most likely?

Note: "most likely" is what we're going to get most of the time—we cannot expect the 100% knowledge, as it does not exist. There's always uncertainty. But, like detectives, we can evaluate various hypotheses and settle on the most likely explanation of the events.

Note also: when talking about the actions of many actors and several hypotheses, "both things" could also be true. The common narrative in the West around this conflict is that Russia is evil and at fault all the time and Kyiv never, and I shall make a case of why this makes no sense, and maybe the opposite is a more likely scenario. However, both options can be true. After having read this, you can make up your own mind about what you believe.

If you're OK with the above, let's go.

Humanitarian Corridors of Mariupol

Mariupol Situation

During the siege of Mariupol, there had been multiple attempts to set up humanitarian corridors by both sides, only no civilians managed to leave; both sides accused each other of shooting at the civilians and not letting them leave. This quote from an FT article on April the 2nd:

Lyudmila Denisova, a Ukrainian human rights worker, said: “Russian forces have not let civilians out of Mariupol since Thursday, in another failed attempt. The occupants are trying to establish full control over Mariupol.”

I'd like to highlight that that's the same Denisova who had been fired by the Kyiv Government after admitting that she'd been lying about Russian military mass rape—I write about it here.

Nearly 4 weeks later, on April 26, this Guardian published an article called Russia accused of shelling Mariupol humanitarian corridor. Now, the Western media coverage of the conflict is plainly one-sided: even when the Guardian piece does not say that the Russians certainly did it, it heavily implies this interpretation via such sub-heading like this:

Safe passage deal for civilians was a trap, say Ukrainians, as Putin’s forces step up eastern offensive

You are immediately inclined to think, "those evil Russians, they're just murderous brutes! We must do everything possible to help the valiant defenders of Mariupol and the poor Ukrainian civilians who are suffering!"—That's exactly that emotional manipulation I spoke about in my dozen thinking principles.

So, how do we process this news?

Mariupol Analysis

Let Us First Sum Up What We Know So Far

  • We can all agree that the corridors had been agreed upon: both sides confirmed it in the run-up.

  • We can also agree that no civilians left: both sides agree on this fact, too.

The question is: why?

Under What Conditions Would This Be True?

Let's follow this logical sequence with 6 mutually-exclusive scenarios:

  1. The civilians either did not know about the corridors,—

    • This may or may not be true, but if it were true, then this would mean, nobody told them. Because by then, there was neither electricity nor internet nor telephone working in Mariupol, nobody from outside could reach the civilians. However, Mariupol forces had satellite internet connection (they were communicating with Kiev and publishing videos on the internet), they definitely knew about the corridors and could / should have communicated this to the civilians. If they wanted to. Why wouldn't they, right?
  2. Or the civilians knew,—but then:

    1. Either the civilians did not want to leave,—

      • This is highly unlikely, especially as zero left—some would've left, surely, even if all were scared.
    2. Or the civilians wanted to leave, but couldn't,—as:

      1. The Russians were shooting at them,—or

      2. The Kyiv forces / Azov were shooting at them or else otherwise prohibited them from leaving,—or

      3. Both sides were shooting at them. This I shall say is ridiculous, because it would mean a complete shit show and insanity on behalf of everyone,—or

      4. The troops on the ground did not get the memo, didn't know about the cease-fire, and opened fire by mistake. This seems rather far-fetched to be implausible, but let's throw it out there for completeness.

The official Azov Twitter account showed how they were stopping the Mariupol civilians from evacuating at the beginning of the military action, and they certainly blamed the Russians for shooting and said that their (Azov's) stopping civilians from leaving was for their own (the civilians') benefit:

While this is a video from an earlier incident, we will see more evidence that Azov prohibited the civilians from leaving, confirming Scenario 2.2.2 from the above. I did not want to focus on the earlier humanitarian corridor situation for this reason: I believe there's more information in the Western media on the corridors from the end of the Mariupol siege rather than from the beginning. In everything else, the analysis is the same, including who benefits.

In only 1 of the (sensible) scenarios above are the Russians shooting at the civilians on purpose.

Under what conditions would this be true?

In any criminal investigation, we need to prove the means, the opportunity, and the motive. The Russian forces would have the means (weapons) and the opportunity (civilians on the road) to perpetrate such a war crime. Kyiv forces would have both of these factors, too.

So, either the civilians were not told of the evacuation by the Kyiv forces, or one of the sides shot at them.

If they were shot at, both sides had the means and the opportunity, so the only way for us to discern who most likely shot at them, we need to investigate the potential motives.

Short-Term Motives: the Attacking Army

The Attacking General Goals

Let's first look at rational motives, and then get to the insane ones.

As an attacking army, what do you want? There are generally 2 tactical goals in a siege (strategic ones could be different):

  1. Capture an object of the attack

  2. Spend as few of your troops as possible. This is key as otherwise it could easily be a Pyrrhic victory: you get the goal but fell your whole army in the process, so you lose the war

That's it. Killing as many opposing troops as possible is not a goal in and of itself, but could be a stepping stone to achieving goal number 1.

If you want to capture the city, you want to capture the city. If you can capture the city because the defenders leave and you do not shoot at all, that's awesome—in fact, this is the best outcome of all as it gets you goal # 1 at zero cost.

Where do the civilians fit into this?

They are generally of no help, so you want them out of the way. There are 3 ways of going about the civilians:

  1. Target and kill them (a war crime)

  2. Ignore them and claim it's collateral damage (morally worrisome, could be a war crime)

  3. Try to minimize casualties, possibly jeopardising one of the first 2 objectives (secure the object, save your own troops).

Now, the Kremlin has been vocal about directing its troops to minimize civilian casualties. It's one of the stated objectives of the Special Military Operation. You might not believe it and the Kyiv side certainly claims quite the opposite is true: that the Russian troops are in fact targeting civilians on purpose, Zelensky even used the word "genocide".[2] The Western mainstream narrative certainly plays this version up.

Scenario 1: Decent, Humanistic General

Let's park the malice for now, suppose you're a decent, humanistic general and you had a command to spare the civilians, would their presence in a city you want to storm be of help or a hindrance?

Well, if there were no civilians, you could just pummel the city into the ground with your superior artillery and air force, forcing the defenders to flee, surrender, or die—and you will have taken the city without many casualties of your own, satisfying your 2 priorities as an attacking army.

So, if you're a normal general, you want the civilians to leave the city. Prohibiting them from leaving by shooting at them makes absolutely no sense.

Scenario 2: Genocidal Maniac

Now, if you're a genocidal maniac, we're not having this conversation, either—because in this case you're just carpet-bombing the damn city (a war crime since 1977), because you enjoy killing. You do not care about the civilians. You also do not attempt to create a humanitarian corridor in the first place.

To organize a humanitarian corridor, then sabotage it to keep the civilians inside, but also then not to carpet bomb the city but rather send in your own troops thus maximizing your own troop casualties… it takes a certain kind of a masochistic pervert that I'm not sure such a person exists, and even if they did exist, I doubt they'd serve to be in the rank of a general giving orders of that magnitude.

Because the Russian troops absolutely went in themselves while the Kyiv forces occupied the buildings inside, the Russian forces thus endangered themselves, engaged in house-to-house warfare, suffered casualties—that's a fact. This rules our a genocidal maniac, unless it's a complete lunatic who likes killing his own troops.

Scenario 3: Cost-Benefit Analyser

Now, you could be somewhere in-between a genocidal maniac and a "normal" general, you could be sort of a moral relativist, personal cost-benefit analyser, maybe slightly sociopathic. Say, you tried, but failed to secure the civilians, oh well… Or, you even calculated that killing civilians would send a sort of a message. So, you engage in what's called "strategic bombing".

There are certainly historical examples of such an approach. The most visible almost always involve either the Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, US, UK or NATO aviation: Hiroshima, Dresden, Stalingrad, Hamburg, London, Berlin, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Baghdad, Belgrade…

Again, back to our hypothetical calculating general: having organized a humanitarian corridor, it then would make no sense to shoot at the civilians from the Russian side.

There's no military gain, and there's only a humanitarian catastrophe that adds reputation and physical cost as evidenced by the media scrutiny and the increased sanctions and military help for Kyiv. That is, if you're a hard cost-benefit person, you see all cost and no benefit.

On Balance

So, for the narrative that "Russia shot at the civilians, sabotaging their evacuation" only makes sense if Russians are, indeed, genocidal maniacs.

Under no other scenario—neither the humanistic nor the calculating one—does it make sense. There are no upsides, and only downsides.

Furthermore, refusal to strategic-bomb Mariupol but rather to send in your own troops for a house-to-house fighting invalidates the genocidal maniac theory, too. Why? Because this inflicts the least possible damage to the city and inflicts the most possible casualty count to your own troops—which sounds more like suicide than genocide. For however bad Mariupol looked when it was all said and done, any heavy artillery or air force would leave nothing—yet there were areas of Mariupol that were fairly untouched.

Thus, in no even remotely plausible scenario do Russian troops have a motive to shoot at the civilians while at the same time risking their own lives in a house-to-house combat.

We have to concoct a tremendously implausible sequence of events and motives for this scenario (Russian troops sabotaged the humanitarian corridor after having participated in organizing one in the first place) to make sense.

Short-Term Motives: the Defending Army

The Defending General Goals

So, what are the motives of a defending army? What are the tactical objectives? Strategic objectives could be different.

I'd say, there's 1 primary objective:

  1. Prohibit the attacking army from achieving its objective.

This generally means inflicting as much pain (or threat of pain) as possible, perhaps strategically retreating and counter-attacking, or else fighting to the death—the latter depending on circumstances. More generally, as a defender you want the payoff for the attacker to be as low as possible, and the cost as high as possible.

Does Having Civilians Nearby Help Defenders?

Defending civilian lives ain't part of the above equation, we can agree this much based on the visible outcomes. If it were, all cities would be more like Melitopol or Kherson than Mariupol—these others taken with almost no shots fired and no property damage. Which, BTW, further invalidates the genocide claim against the Russians—if they were, indeed, genocidal and brutal against the Ukrainian civilians, both Kherson and Melitopol would be in ruins with terrorized population: a scenario clearly untrue.[3]

Now, does having civilians nearby help or hurt your objective as a defender?

Basically, it hurts if your objective is to save civilian lives—therefore, ultimately, whether or not there are civilians where you are while you're defending a territory is a litmus test on how much you care about the civilians to start with. This is what the economists call a "revealed preference" argument: no matter what you say, your actions reveal your true preferences. If you cared about the civilians, you would do everything possible to save them from suffering.

Even NY Times documented Kyiv forces purposefully endangering their own civilians. See my piece on NY Times Disinformation where I quote NY Times's To Push Back Russians, Ukrainians Hit a Village With Cluster Munitions about Kyiv forces effectively shooting at their own civilians:

But the Ukrainians’ decision to saturate their own village with a cluster munition that has the capacity to haphazardly kill innocent people underscores their strategic calculation: This is what they needed to do to retake their country, no matter the cost.

Again, if there are civilians where you are as a defender, only two scenarios would explain this:

  1. Either: you selflessly protect the civilians from the brutality of the attacking army,—

    • We can remove this hypothesis because in that case a) you wouldn't have organized the humanitarian corridors and b) having organized them in the first place, you wouldn't have prohibited the civilians from leaving and also c) Melitopol and Kherson are living examples that Russians aren't brutal, and if they were, they would've bombed you with the civilians together. We can thus rule this out.
  2. Or: you need civilians as a human shield.

Under any other circumstances, you'd ensure that there are no civilians in the harm's way by evacuating them. This had clearly not been done in Mariupol.

Human Shield Logic

Let's see the evidence for the second scenario, based on the last days of the Azovstal defence. The Kremlin and the International Red Cross agreed on extracting the final civilians from Azovstal, after which the Russians heavy-bombed Azovstal garrison into submission, after which the garrison finally surrendered. The Russians were not using heavy bombing technique before the last civilians were evacuated.[4]

Now, notice how human shield works best against our decent general or our calculating one—this technique wouldn't work at all against a genocidal maniac.

Because not only would a human shield make a decent person try to minimize the civilian suffering, any human suffering would be written off as atrocities of an attacking army in the international media, thus increasing the cost of attack for the calculating one. Only the genocidal maniac would not care.

And the psychology that any civilian casualties would be blamed on the stronger attacking army also fits into the calculus of the defender: the defender can basically get away with more. Hell, the defenders can perpetrate war crimes and then this would be blamed on the attacker in the right media climate—a topic we'll come back to later. In short, for the defenders, there's all the upside and none of the downside in keeping the civilians closer to the action. Which is quite the opposite incentives when compared with the attacking side, who want the civilians away.

This type of analysis is basically game-theoretic: given you know how your opposing side would act in this or that scenario, what is your best course of action? In this case, given that the defenders know that the attackers would be slowed down by the defenders using a human shield, as well as the attackers would use a more human-costly (for themselves) tactics of house-to-house combat trying to save as many civilians as possible, it's in the defenders' best interest to use the human shield and to keep as many civilians as close to themselves as possible. Effectively, as hostages.

All of the above is playing to the defenders' objectives of prohibiting the attacking army from reaching its objectives. The attackers cannot use heavy bombing nor artillery, thus having to use slower and more human-intensive head-on infantry attack, inflicting more damage on themselves.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a key Zelensky advisor, basically confirms the strategy with this quote to NY Times:[5]

“The Russians fight poorly in the cities,” Mr. Podolyak said. “In the cities, it is possible to maneuver, and find cover, and you minimize losses; you can resist a longer time and inflict significant casualties on the Russians.”

This only works if you have civilians to hide behind. Without the civilians, the cities can be reduced to rubble with Russia's superior air presence and heavy bombers.

Zelensky himself verified the same in December 2022 in an interview to the French channels TF1 and LCI, when he said that he will not authorise (mandatory) evacuation from Kiev though if people want they can leave. He provided this explanation for his reasons:[6]

But I want to tell you for sure: if the city is empty, it is very easy to capture it. These examples are both historical as well as from our own country.

This point seems so obvious that I am astounded there are articles written by NY Times using this quote with a completely different takeaway.

Is this a tactic of a terrorist taking a hostage?

Well, yes, it is.

So, am I calling the defenders of Mariupol terrorists?

Well, what other conclusion would you arrive at, when we analyse all the motives, and see that the facts of civilians not able to leave Mariupol before and during the siege, combined with the fact that Russia was using an incredibly slow and soldier-lives-expensive siege technique, rather than its advantage in heavy artillery and air coverage?

Human Shield and Kyiv Forces: UN and Amnesty International Verified Evidence

Is there verified evidence other than conjectures about the motives? Yes, there is, but not about Mariupol—though we'll hear from a Mariupol resident later on, too.

Note: the above analysis is based on logic and was available immediately. The below evidence had taken months to be collated and become available. Here, it supports our logic and game-theoretic analysis of actions and motives presented above, meaning we can feel more confident that the analysis is solid. Remember: we're after likelihood, not certainty. Every piece of evidence that supports this or that scenario, increases its likelihood.

Here's a fairly scathing report by Amnesty International from August 4, 2022: Ukraine: military endangering civilians by locating forces in residential areas - new research.

So as not to be unbiased, the report does conclude with a short statement that the Russian forces use unguided munitions in heavily populated areas—but this takes up about 5% of the text. The 95% of the report can be summarized by the following quotes from Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General:

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas.

“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.

“Militaries should never use hospitals to engage in warfare and should only use schools or civilian homes as a last resort when there are no viable alternatives.

“The Ukrainian government should immediately ensure that it locates its forces away from populated areas or should evacuate civilians from areas where the military is operating.”

One Ukrainian civilian is quoted as asking this question:

“I don’t understand why our military is firing from the cities and not from the field.”

Given what Zelensky said about empty cities being easy to capture and what Mykhailo Podolyak told the New York Times, the answer to this question is fairly straightforward: it is by design.

Skip forward if you've had enough evidence—or read the next few paragraphs referencing a UN report on how Kyiv forces are using human shields on an example of a Stara Krasnyanka nursing home—another story that had been immediately presented as "evil Russians shooting up civilians on purpose" while the reality is completely the opposite.

It's another high-profile research write-up: a fairly balanced July 12, 2022 article by Associated Press about (in turn) a fairly balanced finding by the UN that speaks of the Kyiv military (or paramilitary) using a Stara Krasnyanka nursing home full of elderly as human shield: UN: Russia and Ukraine are to blame for nursing home attack. Despite the title of the article, it presents the following UN-investigated and proven sequence of events, except it does so with a caveat: Kyiv soldiers occupied a nursing home, mined the roads leading up to it, not only failed to evacuate the elderly but basically via mining the roads made it impossible for the elderly to be evacuated by the staff, then used the nursing home to shoot at Russian troops, after which the Russian troops shot back, and after one such shot the nursing home caught on fire and many elderly civilians perished.

The caveat is that report says "it's unclear who started shooting first" but I think it's fairly obvious: if you're occupying a position in a building on a hill that is strategically overlooking a highway, why are you doing it unless you're planning to shoot at an enemy below on a highway? And vice versa: if you're rolling down the highway in a tank, why are you opening fire at a building nearby unless you're being shot at? Wouldn't you just drive past, rather than "indiscriminately" shoot at buildings?

I fail to understand how the Russian military is complicit in the blame, when it was trying to suppress a source of gunfire at itself (a legitimate action during the war), while the Kyiv military used elderly civilians as a human shield (which is a war crime).

Curiously, the UN ended up not calling the actions of either military a war crime in this case—which feels like a political compromise. I call the above reporting "fairly" balanced because it still feels imbalanced, but it's nonetheless one of the most balanced pieces I'd seen in 2022. And it mentions the incentives I wrote about above, too:

The aftermath of the attack on the Stara Krasnyanka home also provides a window into how both Russia and Ukraine move quickly to set the narrative for how events are unfolding on the ground — even when those events may still be shrouded by the fog of war. For Ukraine, maintaining the upper hand in the fight for hearts and minds helps to ensure the continued flow of billions of dollars in Western military and humanitarian aid.

So, that's the evidence we have in the West—and remember, I'm only relying here on the evidence that's been presented by the Western mainstream media and (sometimes) Ukrainian media, so I'm playing this game purposefully handicapped, lest I be denounced a "Russian propagandist".

To summarize so far: the short-term incentives are clear, and the evidence we have from similar cases elsewhere points the blame at the Kyiv military and ultra-nationalist paramilitary for using civilians as a human shield.

But wait: we're told that Russia destroyed Mariupol, we've seen the photos!

And now we come to the long-term motives.

Long-Term Motives: Contrasting the Sides

Civilian casualties are terrible and immediate.

Civilian infrastructure destruction has long-term consequences, also for the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.

Now, ask yourself this: who is going to pay for the rebuild?

Kyiv is losing territory. Russia is taking on territory.

If Russia takes on cities with minimal destruction and minimal casualties (like Kherson and Melitopol) it will be able to normalize life fairly fast and with little investment, thus keeping the civilian population happy. Russia has resources, especially petrol which is a key ingredient in production and normal life. There's evidence from my personal interviews of Kherson residents that Russia did, in fact, use this economic lever to gain a favourable referendum outcome: high salaries, pensions, and free medical care are all great incentives given years of Kyiv neglect and zero economic prospects.

Basically: it's the economy, stupid.

Ukraine's economy, on the other hand, is destroyed, with no jobs and escalating prices especially on the basis of runaway petrol costs. The lives of its civilians even outside the active fighting are worsening rapidly. I'd written most of this blog in July, way before Russia made a decision to hit Ukrainian dual-purpose infrastructure; the prognosis is even worse now.

The existence of peaceful regions under Russian control, with normalized life, is therefore top priority for Russia and at the same time the worst outcome for Kyiv as it creates internal unhappiness in Ukraine. People have relatives on both sides of the line, and stories from the (relatively) prospering regions under Russian control compared to struggling regions under Kiev control bodes badly for Kiev.

Thus, Russia has all the incentive to spare the infrastructure as well as the civilian lives, while Kyiv has no incentive to spare either.

If this were not true for Russia, its military would not have waited until October to start hitting dual-purpose infrastructure such as the electricity grid—a full 7+ months after the start of the military action.

Now, what are the benefits for Kiev in destroying the civilian infrastructure on the territories it is giving up?

The incentives are flipped: the more destruction Russia inherits, the more costs it carries in the rebuild, the longer the rebuild, the worse and the longer the humanitarian catastrophe in the occupied territories, the longer and costlier it takes for Russia to normalize life, the relatively better Kyiv-controlled Ukraine's internal situation looks when compared to the Russian-controlled territories.

Not only that, but the more destruction there is in the cities that Russia occupies, the more potentially embittered are the remaining civilians to the attacking forces. This is a flipped narrative of what NY Times used to write about the Kyiv troops in Donbass in 2014, where their actions led to hundreds of civilian casualties a day, which pushed more and more Donbass civilian volunteers to take up arms against the Kyiv regime. We discussed this embitterment effect from Kyiv actions in Donbass above and also here.[7]

So, again: both sides have the means and the opportunity to destroy stuff, yet only one side has the motive. Russia benefits not at all from the destruction of the (purely) civilian infrastructure and carries all the costs, and Kiev gets all the benefit and carries no cost (not even reputational cost abroad, as the destruction is blamed on Russia).

The only potential reputational cost for Kiev is "internal": increased animosity and hatred amongst the surviving population in the cities that Kiev is giving up to Russia—but we already know this is happening through the New York Times reporting from 2014, as well as we know that the Kiev regime cares less about its own civilians when it comes to the question of territory vs people.

Again, I just made a rational case when interpreting actions. But: do we have evidence beyond interpreting actions? What of stated intent?

Before we get to the evidence, let's look at the profiles of the "attackers" and the "defenders" of Mariupol.

Background: the "Defenders" and the "Attackers" of Mariupol

TL;DR As this is a very long session, a mini-summary: I make the case that the "attackers" are in fact the local militias "coming home" while the "defenders" are out-of-towners and radical far-right militias who captured Mariupol violently in 2014 and had been terrorizing the town ever since. I provide evidence from the Western sources, too.

What Events Led to 2022?

OK, so far analysing the motives of the attackers and the defenders, it should be clear that only one side benefits from hiding behind the civilians and destroying the civilian infrastructure, while the other side gets all the blame from any civilian casualties and all the cost associated with the rebuild.

This reputational cost is known and was used in Mariupol: just remember the Mariupol Theatre or Hospital coverage in the Western media. We just saw the UN report on the Stara Krasnyanka nursing home, and I already covered the proven lie about the so-called "use of rape as an instrument of war" in Part 3: Verifiable Lies as Exemplified by the "Systemic Rape as a Weapon" Hoax of NY Times: Disinformation Central? Or: How I Lost Trust in the Western Mainstream Media and What to Do About It. In short, there's much human suffering, but only one side gets the brunt of the war crimes allegations, while the other side gets none.

For now, the incentives are clear—but the behaviour of the respective armies would be even clearer if we could understand their emotional attachment to Mariupol, not only logical incentives.

For this, we need to go backwards. 2022 is clearly not the starting point in this conflict.

Again, this is so obvious, it's surprising how this point isn't more often made. I take it back: this point is not made in the mainstream Western media because it goes against the adopted "Russia bad" narrative; this point is made by the independent media and analysts.

When looking at the situation from the point of view of 2022, the picture is this: large Russia attacked small Ukraine. But why had it come to this?

Euromaidan 2014 and Ukrainian Civil War: A Primer

Well, what preceded this is the past 8 years of the civil war in Donbass, with the Kyiv regime's army shelling the civilian areas of Donetsk and Lugansk and Gorlovka and Makeevka and other Donbass cities, killing ~14,000 its own people (according to the UN, including 4k Kyiv soldiers and the rest Ukrainian civilians).[8] As I covered in the NY Times Disinformation piece, back in the day NY Times used to write about this, for example the following passage in July 2014 (there were several such NYT pieces in 2014, I like this one as it highlights the key issue for us):[9]

The Ukrainian military’s advances to reclaim territory from rebel control have come at a steep human cost. According to a United Nations count released on Monday, 799 civilians have been killed since mid-April, when Ukraine began to battle insurgents here, and at least 2,155 have been wounded.

The killings have left the population in eastern Ukraine embittered toward Ukraine’s pro-Western government, and are helping to spur recruitment for the pro-Russian militias. In time, even if the Ukrainian military routs the rebels and retakes the east, the civilian deaths are likely to leave deep resentments here, and could complicate reconciliation efforts for decades.

What preceded this is of course the coup d'état that happened earlier that year, where the democratically-elected president had been overthrown by radical right-wing / neo-Nazi elements and the US installed a puppet regime.[10] [11]

Of course, the media presented is slightly more couched than that, but let's be honest: when Viktoria Nuland discusses who should be in government of Ukraine, while also saying "Fuck the EU" when commenting on how much EU input the US needs on Ukraine, it's difficult to take it as anything other than the US installing a puppet government.

As for the neo-Nazi involvement, well, this is part of our story here. Certainly, the neo-Nazis themselves quite proudly play up their involvement:

There are 2 things important from the above video: 1) Karas says that they enjoy shooting and killing, and 2) Karas claims that without them, Maidan wouldn't have happened.

Just to show you how bloody and successful the far-right involvement was, here's a peer-reviewed and published-then-unpublished academic paper by a Ukrainian-Canadian academic researcher about how the neo-Nazi elements staged a false flag operation on Maidan, killed 100 of the protestors, then blamed it on Yanukovich and not only got away with it but actually achieved their goals of Western governments' support: Maidan Massacre Study Accepted and Then Rejected by Journal.

I highly recommend you read the author's full thread 🧵 here 👇

There was also the Odessa massacre in early May 2014.

We'll cover the Ukrainian neo-Nazis from a historical perspective in a separate piece, but let's get back to the Donbass in 2014: Donbass organized a referendum on secession in response to the Maidan coup d'état in Kiev.

You could say, it was Russia-instigated. Was it? It's unclear how much the Russian security service helped. But can you herd millions of people to the polls on an enemy territory on the basis of a threat / manipulation in a short period of time? You think, there was no self-determination possible by the people of Donbass? Especially in response to the US involvement in the coup d'état in Kiev? You would deny them agency?

We'll look at some history later, for now these statements and especially the timeline of who did what with whose backing is clear: blood on Maidan and in Odessa first, popular Crimea and Donbass referenda second, in response.[12]

This view is also supported by the media of the time: a piece by Reuters East Ukraine referendum raises fears of dismemberment from 12 May, 2014, with such profiles as these:

Engineer Sergei, 33, voting in the industrial centre of Mariupol, said he would answer “Yes” to the question on the ballot paper, printed in Russian and Ukrainian: “Do you support the act of state self-rule of the Donetsk People’s Republic?”

“We’re all for the independence of the Donetsk republic,” he said. “It means leaving behind that fascist, pro-American government (in Kiev), which brought no one any good.”

[…] in the same queue of voters, 54-year-old Irina, saw a “Yes” vote as endorsement of autonomy within Ukraine.

“I want Donetsk to have its own powers, some kind of autonomy, separate from Kiev. I’m not against a united Ukraine, but not under those people we did not choose, who seized power and are going to ruin the country,” she said.

Notice how these people are from Mariupol and how they're eager to vote in the referendum? Google for "Mariupol May 2014" to see Azov and Kyiv forces against the civilians in Mariupol; look at what the Western press was writing back then.

The same article also notes how the Donbass people ignored Putin:


Sunday’s vote went ahead despite a call by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to postpone it, a move that had raised hopes for an easing of tension.

The rebels in the east and the Kremlin say the pro-European Kiev government that replaced Yanukovich lacks legitimacy.

What gives the Anti-Maidan movement more legitimacy, furthermore, are the numbers: Maidan was supported by fewer people than those who opposed it. This from a poll published in Kyiv Post in February, 2014:[13]

About 45% of Ukrainians support the demonstrations in favor of Ukraine's closer relations with Europe, known as Euromaidan, while 48% do not support them and 7% are undecided, a poll of 2,600 respondents conducted in Ukraine on January 17-30 has shown.

After the coup and even more so the referendum, Kyiv regime's military and the oligarch-funded self-organized nationalistic guard units like Azov, Aidar, Tornado etc. opened fire at the Donbass civilians. Who then in response took up arms and shot back.

It's really important to understand the sequence of the events here, as well as to understand that Maidan was a minority movement but with very violent small core.

Kyiv regime's military and nationalistic battalions came to Donbass cities to bring them to heel. With brute force.

The Nationalistic Battalions: A Primer

The makeup of the nationalistic battalions cannot be understated. We read this about Turchinov, the acting president of Ukraine before Poroshenko and later the Secretary of the National Security & Defence Council of Ukraine:[14]

In an interview with the BBC, Turchynov admitted that in 2014, when the first volunteers went to war, he was personally giving them weapons, but not all were clean in the eyes of the law: "And I personally signed the orders for the weapons, many were worried about what would happen if they did not follow those orders with a weapons. Indeed, we didn't check anyone at that time, if they were convicted previously or not – whoever said that they are ready to defend the country, signed up, received weapons and went to the East of our country." In an interview given to VICE, he declared concerning his decision: "If it happened again, I would do the same thing."

I verified one of the Wikipedia sources from Ukraine media, where Turchinov said that he personally opened the warehouses with weapons for the volunteers, because the army officers refused. Why did the army officers refuse? Because they were fearing that many of the volunteers had been convicted criminals in the past, as the Kyiv regime under Turchynov never checked the volunteers.

This is a pattern for Kyiv: in March 2022, Newsweek reported that Ukraine Releases Prisoners With 'Combat Experience' To Help Fight Russia.

We also know the consequences of such behaviour: marauding, robberies, murder, torture, rape, and other war crimes. Here are articles from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty from 2016 & 2017 detailing a criminal case in a Kiev court against members of the Ukrainian paramilitary "Tornado" Battalion for war crimes perpetrated by them in Donbass (torture, murder, rape): 'Tornado' Trial Tests Kyiv's Ability To Rein In Rogue Paramilitaries and In Ukraine, Both Sides To Appeal Verdicts In Tornado Battalion Case.

And while some volunteer nationalistic battalions were simple thugs, there were neo-Nazis, too. Here's Al Jazeera's Profile: Who are Ukraine’s far-right Azov regiment?, where we read that:

The far-right neo-Nazi group has expanded to become part of Ukraine’s armed forces, a street militia and a political party.

Feel free to read the profile, about the neo-Nazi and hardcore far-right ultra-nationalism ideology, the funding, the war crimes and human rights violations, the Roma pogroms…

Also note the response of the standing Ukrainian army in 2014: it wanted nothing to do with these guys in 2014. So, what happened in-between? Could it be that the officers who'd refused to give weapons to these "volunteers" had been retired, while such far-right ideologically-driven groups "expanded to become part of Ukraine’s armed forces"?

Apart from the convicted Tornado and army-integrated Azov, there had been many others like Aidar, whom Amnesty International investigated and published the following report on Ukraine: Abuses and war crimes by the Aidar Volunteer Battalion in the north Luhansk region. The report opens with this quote by an Aidar battalion commander to the Amnesty International researcher:

It’s not Europe. It’s a bit different… There is a war here. The law has changed, procedures have been simplified… If I choose to, I can have you arrested right now, put a bag over your head and lock you up in a cellar for 30 days on suspicion of aiding separatists.
--Aidar battalion commander to Amnesty International researcher

Dehumanizing Donbass

And what did Donbass people do when faced with the weaponized far-right nationals and ex-criminals who came to shoot, loot, and rape in 2014?

NY Times was writing back in 2014 how many common Donbass folk are taking up arms exactly in response to this. Defending their homes. Defending their homes from people who come to their homes with guns, from outside their region.

Now let's see where Mariupol is situated. Mariupol is part of the Donetsk Oblast. Did people of Donbass voted for secession in a referendum? Including those in Mariupol? Yes, they did, quite eagerly too—as we saw from the Reuters article. So, it stands to reason that they were looked at by the Kyiv regime and definitely by the ultra-nationalistic regiments like Azov as "separatists", "terrorists", "traitors".

And what do you do with "terrorists" and "separatists" and "traitors"?

Now, both first and second videos are clearly edited, and the third is a snippet of a larger speech. The Butkevych full interview is a bit more balanced than that, though the snippets are genuine: he does speak of people of Donbass as useless (same as President Poroshenko), he does say Ukraine needs Donbass for resources not people, and he does say that a "certain segment" of the Donbass population needs to be just murdered. What's not clear is whether he means all of the 1.5 mil of "useless" people or just those who took up weapons against Kyiv, though from context the former is more likely because he preambles this with "it sounds harsh, but a certain segment should just be exterminated". He also implies that another option is to let Donbass go, which is why I say that the full interview is a bit "milder".

The "patriot" video is also edited, and I cannot find the original, so who knows. I doubt it's a fake, but I don't see the full video. It's one source I'll allow myself which could be attacked—but it's of a pattern, so I'll keep it here.

Poroshenko video is unedited but is a snippet from a much bigger speech, and published the following article titled Lies: Petro Poroshenko Promised that Children from Donbas would be Sitting in Cellars where it claims that the video is taken out of context, and the wider context is that Poroshenko is talking about the current state of affairs, that he is saying that "the war can't be won with weapons, [because] every bullet produces two enemies," and he then goes on to describe in present tense that non-Donbass Ukraine will have all the peaceful life markings (wages, work, kindergarten, pensions), while the other side does not have any of this, and so "we will win this war with peace". Except, the present tense point made by is itself a lie. Poroshenko uses both future and present tense in the same sentence when he contrasts "we will have work—they do not" and when he talks about the children, he speaks both sides of the contrast in the future tense (the YouTube English subtitles have the second part in the present tense in the link I attached, but he uses future tense in the last bit): "our children will go to school and kindergarten—theirs will sit in the cellars". It's simply impossible to claim this is a misconstrued Russian "fake" using present tense as a rebuttal, when it is clearly future tense.

Also, abstracting for the time being from future or present tense, from a promise of malice or a statement of the current situation, and think: why are the children of Donbass sitting in the cellars? Is it because they want to? Or is it because Kyiv military and radical paramilitary are shelling the schools, hospitals, and houses in Donetsk, Lugansk, Gorlovka, Makeevka?

I have also seen the full Poroshenko speech: it's only "marginally" better than the snippet and the sentiment is still the same: the "useless" people of Donbass will have no work and their "children will be sitting in the cellars". Not the words you'd want your President to say about you, if you were a citizen of Ukraine. And together with Poroshenko's June 2022 comments in various interviews with the likes of Germany's Deutsche Welle (DW) and Ukraine's Espresso TV / Radio Liberty Europe (the last in Russian), where Poroshenko says that Minsk Accords delivered everything [my emphasis—AI] they needed to deliver, meaning a delay in the hot conflict with Russia and therefore the ability for Kyiv to build up its armed forces, rather than a peaceful resolution in Donbass (the latter is the obvious implication)—together with these comments, his statement about "children sitting in cellars" is perceived exactly how it's perceived by the people of Donbass.

The sum total of evidence is pointing a certain way, no matter what intellectual gymnastics is performed to denounce the above as a "Russian fake" or "taken out of context". You cannot take out of context the 8 years of shelling of civilian infrastructure, killing 10,000+ civilians of which over 200 children, the proven (by Ukrainians courts themselves) war crimes of the far-right paramilitary, and numerous quotes about "useless Donbass non-Ukrainians" (all the while by own admission using the Minsk Accords to play for time time and build up the armed forces for a hotter future conflict).

So, Who Are the Actual Defenders?

So, now consider Mariupol, being in Donbass and having voted for secession in 2014 together with the rest of Donbass.

Mariupol's "defenders" are Azov and Kyiv regime's military—the same Azov that espouses neo-Nazi ideology and was put together in 2014 from the un-checked volunteers who were given arms (against the wishes of the then-Ukrainian army officers). The same Azov that's been implicated in war and other crimes. Part of the wider far-right paramilitary that claimed that Donbass has many useless people, some of whom need exterminating. That also in the past 8 years became a key part of the standing Kyiv military, if not its backbone.

While Mariupol's "attackers" are predominantly the militia of Donbass (with Russian artillery support and some Russian ground troops), whose members the New York Times was writing about in 2014 that they went into the Donbass militia in response to the Kyiv military action that killed thousands of their loved ones. Who prior to 2014 had been workers of all kind, be it factory, teachers, engineers, even orchestra musicians. Who are coming home.

Who of the two sides do you now think is predominantly responsible for all the destruction and the civilian deaths in Mariupol?

The Eyewitness Evidence From Mariupol (and Lysychansk)

It's impossible to talk about the evidence without using the Russian media or the independent journalists who are accused in the West of being "Putin's puppets".

As we've seen, the West lies about this conflict, which to me means that any shade it throws at the "Russian propaganda" of the independent Western journalists needs to be taken with more than a grain of salt.

But I'm even not going to use any evidence from the "separatist" side—I'll just use what came through the Western mainstream media, to make my case.

When we're dealing with a situation where journalists get accused (with no or scant evidence) of playing an agenda, it's important to be applying critical thinking. I openly admit that I do not know what to trust, as I've just proven the lies and the bias in the mainstream Western media. I, too, accuse the mainstream journalists of playing an agenda—but instead of saying that these are "Washington's stooges" I provide evidence of the bias and actual disinformation. I do not know who's pulling their strings, and for now it's unimportant.

So, we continue by following our dozen thinking principles and asking critical questions of the motives and the evidence presented.

And the more we ask, the more muddled the situation becomes. All the cumulative evidence points to the fact that at the very least, the narrative promoted in the West is wrong. This does not make the narrative promoted in Russia right, necessarily—it just highlights the complexity of the situation. And at most, we come to the conclusion that the Russian narrative is likely much closer to reality than the Kyiv & Western one.

As an aside, anything that comes out of Kyiv that sounds like a clear-cut accusation of Russia in all the wrongdoings should be taken with suspicion, because Kyiv is an "interested side" and because it has a history of making stuff up. When Kyiv bomber dropped unguided bombs in the centre of the city of Lugansk on June 2, 2014, killing 8 and wounding 28 more, Kyiv said that "the insurgents had fired an anti-aircraft missile at themselves." A CNN and Radio Liberty investigations both concluded that "Despite Denials, All Evidence For Deadly Explosion Points To Kyiv".[15]

So, let's take a few snippets of recent evidence that snuck into the Western media that paint Kyiv military and paramilitaries as bad actors, using civilians as human shields. We already have the war crimes trial and convictions of "Tornado" from 2016 / 2017, as well as the UN report about the Stara Krasnyanka nursing home and the Amnesty International piece.

France24 published this video report titled 'The Russians are our friends': The civilians refusing to evacuate Ukraine's Lysychansk. The video was taken by a French reporter who'd been in Lysychansk while it was controlled by Kyiv. The reporter tweeted that she was surprized that the civilians told her that Russians are not shooting at them, and the civilians refused to be "deported" to Ukraine (their words). There were tens of thousands of the civilians left (more than 15,000 according to the reporter). You could say that whoever was pro-Kyiv had already left, so whoever stayed was by definition pro-Russian. But just as easily you could claim that people who evacuated did so because they feared for their lives, and most of them were anti-Kyiv. The latter interpretation would be more consistent with the cumulative evidence (including the NY Times reporting from before 2022 and the aforementioned opinions by Ukrainian ultranationalists and Poroshenko)—I would claim.

But Lysychansk isn't Mariupol.

So, when finally the last civilian evacuees were allowed to leave Azovstal under the Red Cross supervision, many gave interviews to the international press. These interviews were shown in the West. Here's how it was covered:

  • The Guardian: Mariupol evacuee recounts terror in bunkers below Azovstal steelworks. "Natalia Usmanova felt the bunker shake as Russian bombs rained down and fear gripped those hunkering underground".

  • NBC News: Azovstal Evacuee Tells Of Russian Bombardment Of Mariupol Steel Plant where we see a woman (Natalia Usmanova) in a light lime green coat tell people about the bombing. The video is clearly edited from different videos, which can be seen by the location of the camera. Also, her first sentences are not translated with the subs. The message is clear: evil Russia is terrorizing civilians. Except her untranslated sentences speak of the Kyiv troops putting heavy weaponry in their yard between the houses and the school (which is prohibited by the Geneva Convention), so they were afraid of the return fire. Basically, she accuses Kyiv troops of using them as human shield—this had not been translated by the NBC news (though is clearly audible, if you know Russian).

  • SBS News uses the same woman and publishes a slightly different part of her statement here: Powerful moment civilians were freed from the Azovstal steel plant | SBS News. This is only a slightly more objective report: after 1:15, she says that they knew about the corridors because they could get the news on the radio, but they were not allowed to leave. This is translated correctly, but unclear who wouldn't allow them to leave—though the implication could be considered to be clear.

  • RT News reported that the German Der Spiegel put up the full video, then deleted it because it was critical of "Azov": Top Western media outlet deletes video critical of Ukraine.

  • And here it is, a fuller video of Natalia Usmanova Woman From Azovstal (now deleted) with unabridged quotes where she clearly states that the Ukrainian Armed Forces used them as a human shield, didn't tell them anything about the corridors, wouldn't let them out. She is a worker at Azovstal and came there for safety in February, as it was a civilian object. She also speculates that the Kyiv forces came there specifically with the goal of using them as a human shield. She finally states that their family unanimously voted on never again living in Ukraine, though she thinks they'll come back to Mariupol. In her words, Ukraine died for her by using them as a human shield. If you want an even fuller video, here's the Full interview with Natalia Usmanova recorded during the evacuation of civilians from Azovstal. May. (also deleted).


As I was about to finally publish this piece written in July, I found out that YouTube deleted the full Natalia Usmanova videos with English subtitles I found back in July.

I'm not surprised.

A bit frustrated, yes, but no longer surprised.

The edited (doctored) videos are still available.

Here's what I was able to find that is still so far available in January 2023: a much fuller video with French subtitles…

…and the full interview with English subtitles (over 7 minutes long):

Now, if by the time you read this these are also deleted, then search for videos in your language on "Full interview with Natalia Usmanova".


So, we went from "an evacuee talks of horrors of Russian bombardment" narrative in the West to the actual real story of "an evacuee talks of the horrors of being kept as a hostage by the Kyiv Army".

Note, I'm only using the full text of the interview that had been published in the Western mainstream media—their own usage of a clearly "doctored" video admits this into evidence.

A further note: somebody on Twitter told me to "check my sources" because the full version of the interview comes from RIA News, which is a Russian Government-owned news agency. To which I reply 3 things:

  • First of all, so? If you're implying that a Russian news agency can never, ever be trusted, then read my entry on the NY Times Disinformation. I think, believing that Russians always lie is as naïve as believing that the Western media never lies. I disagree with this on principle, though that's neither here nor there.

  • Second, the context matters. This is an evacuee that was taken from Azovstal by the International Red Cross, and then was interviewed by multiple international news agencies. You can see multiple camera angles in the edited version on NBC. There was certainly enough credibility afforded to this testimony by the international media, for it to be taken and reposted with translation in many Western media. If you want to make a case that the testimony in this context is "Russian disinformation", I guess technically that's possible, but given my understanding of the context it's certainly highly unlikely. The Western media mass usage of the (doctored) video allows me to use this as evidence.

  • Third, even if you have questions about the validity of the testimony, the fact that multiple Western media outlets took the larger video, edited it differently but with similar effect, and translated different parts of it… all of these facts are choices that somebody made. The video caption is a choice that somebody made. This is as blatant a conscious disinformation as it gets, and it's coming from the Western mainstream media.

All of these things undermine the trust in the Western media—and by extension, strengthen the trust in the news coming from Donbass, either by the Russian or the independent journalists. Because if something can either be black or white and our confidence that it's black goes down, our confidence that it's white by definition increases.

And I've only used what was presented in the West + my critical thinking principles.

But if we admit into evidence the Russian and independent journalist reports from Mariupol, you will hear literally hundreds of people say the same thing, over and over again: Azov and Kyiv "defenders" used them as human shield, shot at their houses even before the DPR/DNR and Russian forces got there, shot at the civilians to kill, wouldn't allow the civilians to try and put out the fires that the "defenders" started, and so on and so forth. And most would repeat what Usmanova said: they blame Kyiv and Zelensky personally for bring the war to them and for using them as a human shield.

And I don't even mention the daily horrors that the residents of Donetsk and Gorlovka and Makeevka have to live through, with the Kyiv artillery—now using the longer range NATO heavy guns—daily shelling of purely civilian infrastructure, killing and wounding dozens daily, many of them kids. They're shooting at the city market, main pedestrian thoroughfares, bus stops, hospitals, schools, residential buildings, kindergartens… And knowing what we know about the NATO intelligence and satellite imagery being supplied to the Kyiv army, they know full well that there are no military objects in the Donetsk city centre and the "sleeping" quarters where they are targeting.

Horrifically, a German TV channel ARD1 Tagesschau ran a news of a market shelling in Donetsk by the Kyiv artillery, except they said on TV that it was Russia(!) that attacked Donetsk and killed civilians! Three (3) days later, they published an apology somewhere on their site: Fehler in der tagesschau am 13. Juni 2022—but I ask you this: how many millions do you think saw the emotional TV report, made up their mind about the "Russian aggression", then read the apology somewhere on a back-site of a Tagesschau blog, and changed their mind? Because ARD1 the TV channel has reach and TV reports have an impact. I'm not sure a blog post is an appropriate "retraction". I am aware of other stories where Kyiv's murders of civilians in Donetsk are presented as Russia's murders of civilians in Kiev or Kharkov or even (illogically) Donetsk. I am not aware of the Western media reporting on the Kiev regime's daily shelling and killings of civilian adults and children in Donbass for the past few years and especially not in 2022 (though there were many in 2014, as we covered).

That's to the point of the civilian infrastructure destruction in Donbass: who benefits and who's started it and who's doing it.

Russia, on the other hand, has already started massive building projects in Mariupol, in order to finish a new hospital and new housing by Autumn (written in July, update in Winter: some finished on-time). This is also not reported in the West, to my knowledge.

In fact, have you ever asked yourselves, why aren't there any mainstream Western journalists on the other side of the line? Are they afraid to find out the truth? What's going on? It's a strange fact, isn't it?

Mariupol Summary

So, what have we shown?

We've taken almost all our "dirty dozen" thinking principles and applied them to a question of "Who shot at the humanitarian corridors in Mariupol?"

We've shown:

  • History: starting point is 2014, not 2022.

  • Context:

    • Minority supported Maidan, very few supported violence.

    • South-East did not accept the US-instigated coup in Kyiv in 2014.

    • as a result there had been popular Anti-Maidan movement and referendum on autonomy in Donbass.

    • as a result the post-coup Kyiv regime came to Donbass to bring them violently to heel.

  • Donbass Defenders:

    • NY Times and others showed Donbass Defenders as civilians who took up arms against the Kyiv aggression.

    • Kyiv ran a campaign to dehumanize Donbass as "terrorists", "separatists", and "useless".

  • Framing:

    • Reframing the understanding of the conflict to that of the "Ukrainian Civil War", we've seen that all the evidence makes much more sense in this frame.

    • In return, this alternative frame (Ukrainian Civil War) also makes more sense given the evidence.

  • Under what conditions would this be true? Alternative explanations:

    • We've seen that "Russian troops shooting at civilians after having organized humanitarian corridors while trying to take Mariupol" narrative only makes sense if Russians are suicidal or insane.

    • We've also seen logically, and later supported by eyewitness evidence as well as Zelensky's and other Kyiv officials' statements, that the Kyiv troops and far-right paramilitaries have more incentive to use civilians as human shield. There's by now overwhelming evidence (Amnesty International, UN, eyewitnesses, direct quotes to media, logic) that Kyiv regime does, in fact, do exactly that.

  • Being a detective: means, opportunity, motive—both sides had the first two, yet only Kyiv forces had the motive to shoot at the civilian corridors.

  • Multiple types of evidence: logical, eyewitness, Amnesty, UN, quotes by Zelensky and other Kyiv officials, historical, modern, incentives are aligned with the actions…

  • Note: I haven't even touched on the US involvement and the geopolitics. I only explained the background of the Ukrainian civil war in Donbass and Russia's involvement in it. Geopolitical and international economy views I'll cover later. They have little to do with Mariupol itself, and much to do with the genesis of the Russia's involvement in the conflict. For now, most is explained with the frame of the "Ukrainian Civil War".

I leave it up to you if you think the case I presented for who really shot at the humanitarian corridors in Mariupol is convincing.

What Really Happened in Bucha?

Bucha Situation

What Do We Know

We have to talk about Bucha, and it makes sense to do so now rather than in a separate post.

Bucha is one of the most critical turning points in the first phase of the military conflict, from its role in the negotiations (or a failure thereof), in the Western military and monetary help, and in Russia's standing in the eyes of the West regarding the alleged war crimes.

What do we know? Or, what did we know in April—July?

  • There were many civilian bodies found in Bucha after the Russian troops left—that's a fact.

  • Many of these civilians were killed by nail-like cluster munitions called fléchettes—also a fact.

That's more or less all the facts that we knew as facts initially (i.e., until late October and the AP/PBS investigative piece; more on this below). Unlike the Mariupol humanitarian corridors which both sides reported on and agreed on the facts, we had evidence from one side only, meaning the certainty is by necessity less.

Anything else (who killed the people, where they were killed, why they were killed) are allegations or conjectures which need to be evaluated against the evidence provided.

So, let's see.

Kiev Region Is Not Donbass

While everything in Mariupol follows the same analysis as the above, including the Hospital and the Theatre questions, Bucha differs in some critical aspects.

I made a case for Mariupol, and Donbass in general, that the Kyiv military and Ukrainian (ultra-)nationalistic paramilitaries are seen as the invaders, while the Donbass defenders (with the Russian help) are seen as the liberators, which I think is a key consideration in the East of Ukraine. Furthermore, the post-2014 Kyiv regime as well as the ultra-nationalist paramilitary and military formations like Azov have considered the people of Donbass as sub-human, as evidenced by their press conferences, speeches, and interviews.

A somewhat similar situation exists in the rest of the South-East, with some differences, leading to a different position as of 2022: more than half-half support for Russia over the Kyiv regime, but far from 98% in Donbass. The difference in the rest of the South-East was that everywhere (Odessa, Nikolaev, Kharkov, Zaporozhye) there was an Anti-Maidan movement just as in Donetsk and Lugansk, except that everywhere else it was violently suppressed. What followed was 8 years of repressions and indoctrination, which meant that many of the people who were against the post-2014 Kiev coup regime had simply left in the interim, a new generation left school with an indoctrination programme, meaning that the regions that used to be much more overwhelmingly pro-Russian were still pro-Russian at the start of 2022 but much less so. As evidenced by the referendum results in Kherson where something like 86-87% voted, of which 86-87% voted "Yes" for joining the Russian Federation, still giving ~75%, which is a far cry from 98% in Donbass.

It's fair to say that the outskirts of Kiev do not fall into this understanding: while not Western Ukraine (from which historic Ukrainian ultra-nationalism originated, see my next entry on this), Kiev region is less pro-Russian than the South-East of the country. There were no "defenders of Donbass" equivalent here, though it might well be that there were some (even many, though not most) civilians in this region that never supported the 2014 Maidan. People with such sentiments exist in Kiev itself, too.

When Vladimir Putin wrote about Russians and Ukrainians being "one people" in 2021, BBC reported on a survey in Ukraine that asked whether Ukrainians agreed: Опрос: 41% украинцев считают себя единым народом с россиянами, 55% с этим не согласны (July 27, 2021). You can use Google Translate or something to read this (published in Russian). Basically:

  • 41% of all Ukrainians (excluding Crimea and Donbass) agreed with Putin, with this regional breakdown:

    • in Western Ukraine, 22% agreed;

    • in Central Ukraine (including Kiev), 36% agreed;

    • in Southern Ukraine, 56% agreed;

    • in Eastern Ukraine (excluding Donbass) as well as the Ukrainians that go to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (now under repressions by the Zelensky regime), 60% agreed.

Another word on pro-Kyiv versus anti-Kyiv sentiment: here's a Google Trends breakdown of YouTube searches from inside Ukraine for 4 search terms:

You have to copy-&-paste the whole string, unfortunately, as I cannot make the link work otherwise.

The first 2 are the names of the two Ukrainian bloggers who are decidedly Anti-Maidan (Yury Podolyaka and Michail Onufrienko, blue and red in my browser, respectively; Podolyaka not to be confused with Mychailo Podolyak, a key Zelensky advisor), and the latter 2 are the key pro-Kiev personalities, the third is Arestovych (another key Zelensky advisor and often a spokesperson for the Office of the President, plus a daily talking head on multiple shows; in yellowish-orange) and the fourth is Gordon (a very pro-Kyiv journalist, not unlike Soloviev for Russia; green). Seeing the %age of searches for various Ukrainian regions tells you all you need to know about the split in the Ukrainian population: especially, if you compare where Podolyaka and Arestovych dominate (the first map, blue vs yellow-orange, respectively).

Now, is this the most relevant search queries? Podolyaka versus Arestovych would be: these are by far the two most cited and most visible personalities on both sides of the conflict. I could've just had these two to paint the same picture, but I also added Onufrienko and Gordon for completeness. There could be other search terms added to create a slightly different split (e.g., having Podolyaka + Onufrienko versus Arestovych would show much more of Ukraine "pro-Russian") but I think comparing these pairs is relevant as they are the most "mainstream" famous and cited ones. It's not super scientific, but it's defensible: following personalities usually follows an inverse Power Law, where we have the top place being 2x as popular as the second place, then another 2x gap between the second and third, etc. So, we get top-3 or 4 and then the long tail, so comparing the 4 most readily famous personalities is defensible to get a reliable feeling. Furthermore, the next point makes this type of analysis more insightful than a questionnaire.

These are not responses to a questionnaire, these are real actions of real people revealing their real preferences of pro-Kyiv versus anti-Kyiv views.

  • And remember: Kyiv outlawed Russian news and media already in 2017 under President Poroshenko, a move criticized by the Human Rights Watch. Meaning: for the past 5 years since 2017, Ukraine had been exposed to only one type of propaganda—that of Kyiv. And even in this environment, the vast majority of Ukrainians overall (and most of all of South-East of Ukraine) are seeking out anti-Kiev Podolyaka rather than pro-Kyiv Arestovych. Nb. the Google Trends breakdown includes Donetsk, Lugansk, and the Crimea regions, which skews the results for the overall Ukraine, but the regional breakdown is objective and stark: South-East is anti-Kyiv.

  • Another point of note: sometime in April, the YouTube channels of Podolyaka and then Onufrienko were closed. Their videos were reposted elsewhere, but the point is this: YouTube post-April is heavily skewed towards Arestovych and the pro-Kiev points of view. And yet, Podolyaka still dominates for some time even after April. Make of this what you will.

What I previously wrote about pro-Russian sentiments in and around Kiev can also be seen from the Google Trends breakdown of search (as of July 17, 2022): Podolyaka + Onufrienko make up respectively 26% + 14% = 40%, which is only a very large minority, not an overwhelming majority. This also checks with the 36% of responders in Central Ukraine who agreed with Putin's "one people" thesis.

So overall, the "liberators coming home, protecting their loved ones" story in and around Kiev cannot be used as much as in Donbass (respectively 70% + 20% = 90%).

We Do Not Know Anything

Does it mean that Russian troops did, in fact, commit war crimes in Bucha?

To be honest, I don't know. Not "know" know, anyway. And nor do you. Neither of us had been there. We can only look at the evidence presented, ask our critical questions, and evaluate various explanations based on the likelihoods. What we must not do is believe the first horrific picture with somebody else's narrative—be it Russian or Western.

And the need to evaluate probabilities also tells us that titles like What Really Happened in Bucha are pure and utter garbage and click-bait. I'm using it because I'm trolling all the so-called "fact-check" and "crowd-sourcing intelligence" sites out there. And also because a title like What Likely Happened in Bucha, Based on Likelihood from What We Think We Know would be both correct and unreadable.

Start with: "I don't know anything"—then slowly and carefully build up.

Bucha Analysis

Let's see what evidence is out there, ask our questions and apply our analysis.

Mariupol and Bucha: Similarities

From my analysis of the Siege of Mariupol, we can use the following facts:

  • Kyiv regime did arm past criminals and war criminals, and released them "into the wild". This happened all across Ukraine, and certainly in and around Kiev, where the militants from "Tornado" Battalion had been convicted in 2016/2017. That's a reliable fact that had been reported in Western media, and because it's damaging to Kyiv, we can trust this.

    (My general rule: if a side admits to wrongdoing, you can trust this because that side is doing something that is against its usual incentives, so it must be true.)

  • Kyiv regime and associated ultra-nationalists look upon any Ukrainian that sympathizes with Russia as a traitor, a collaborationist, a separatist and/or a terrorist. In other words, half-a-country (in 2014) are "traitors". This is seen in Kyiv's official dealing with Donbass, in the speeches of the politicians, and in the security forces crackdowns. It's also seen in the quickly enacted anti-collaboration laws.

    For example, Police scout for pro-Russia collaborators in eastern Ukraine describes a Slavyansk-Kramatorsk police chief speaking of Ukrainians that are suspected of collaborating with Russia: “I cannot even call these people Ukrainians, even though they have Ukrainian passports and were born here and lived here all their lives.” This again highlights the official attitude to the people of Donbass, and the fact that this is a Ukrainian civil war first and foremost.

    In Ukraine cracks down on ‘traitors’ helping Russian troops, the Associated Press writes about the UN human rights office documenting vigilantism, human rights abuses by the Ukrainian secret service (SBU), the stories of people detailed without prosecution, at least 2 cases of unlawful killings, etc. etc. It's wartime and on the one hand this could be understandable. On the other hand, unlawful killings by SBU are still unlawful killings.

    In the same article, AP documents cases where SBU caught people who posted pro-Russian views on social media, and made them record videos where these people speak of "regret" after "having realized how misguided they were". You can only imagine how such "realizations of regret" had come about.

  • It is not in Russia's best interests to institute a reign of terror and destruction on the occupied territories (as we covered above and I claim this piece of analysis carries over)—in fact, it's in their best interest to bring prosperity and peace to the new territories, like they did in the Crimea and like they're doing now in Kherson and Melitopol right now (we covered this above, too). Even short-term, it is bad for them to subject the civilians to extra danger—unless the civilians are taking up arms against them or spying on them, in which case they cease to be civilians. We'll touch on this later.

  • We've already seen from the Amnesty International "Aidar" report (cited above) that even in 2014, the Kiev regime had sanctioned simplified procedures for no-questions-asked detention of suspected "separatists" for up to 30 days. This untied the hands of the more radical elements within the Kyiv security forces, the army, and the paramilitaries.

  • We've also already seen a proven pattern of behaviour of the Ukrainian far-right in staging false flag massacres going back to their Maidan days in 2014, where they killed 100 of the protestors and "framed" Yanukovich in the eyes of the Western media and Western governments: Maidan Massacre Study Accepted and Then Rejected by Journal. Bombing Lugansk then denying it and blaming the Donbass defenders, as well as the Odessa Trade Unions House Massacre all fit into the same pattern of behaviours.

New Kyiv Laws, Witnesses, Traitors

Let's also add to these facts that the Kiev regime had effectively now further removed any penalty for vigilantism. You can google for "Ukraine tying up people to trees" (remove the quotation marks) and you'll find these articles at or near the top of organic search: Ukraine: People accused of looting tied to poles, stripped and beaten and Ukrainian civilians stripped, tied up and beaten by vigilantes in shocking videos.

There have also been reports that Ukraine Bill Makes it Legal for Anyone to Kill Russian Soldiers. Newsweek reports that they failed to verify this though they asked, but I was able to find evidence in Ukrainian media with a link to the official government sources here which I take as legitimate (in Russian & Ukrainian): В Украине гражданским разрешили убивать российских оккупантов. The law basically equates Ukrainian civilians to army personnel, with equal protections. The unstated but obvious implication is that they can kill anyone just on the suspicion of being a Russian soldier or a saboteur during the wartime. Shoot first, ask questions later.

Kyiv passed a few such bills, including making it a felony to deny "Russian aggression against Ukraine". Here's the news from Ukrainian media (in Russian & Ukrainian)—I don't have readily available links in English because not everything is reported in the Western media: ВР установила уголовную ответственность за отрицание военного вторжения в Украину.

What is the real impact of such a felony law to "deny the Russian aggression"? Here is an official note from Kyiv City Prosecutor's Office from August 17, 2022, of a case brought against a woman from Irpin (a neighbouring towm / suburb of Kiev right next to Bucha). The woman's transgression? In her private telephone calls to her friends in other parts of Ukraine, she claimed that the Russian soldiers had not, in fact, carried out any murders nor other crimes when in Irpin.

Let me just reiterate: she is a witness who said what she saw. Even more so, she expressed her opinion in a private phone call. And now she is prosecuted for this. The site above is in Ukrainian, but you can use your browser's "translate" function to English and you'll read something like this:

According to the materials of the pre-trial investigation, the suspect, living in the Kyiv region and realizing the fact of the temporary occupation by the Russian armed forces of part of the territories of our state, including the Kyiv region, in telephone conversations with citizens of Ukraine denied the facts of murder and violence against the civilian population of Ukraine by Russian servicemen, as well as their commission of other crimes in the temporarily occupied territories.


I started a Twitter thread where I add similar cases:

There's a case against a Zaporozhie woman for "liking" a social media post by a former Ukrainian MP Oleg Tsaryov and another case against a Sumy woman who said that Ukraine (Kyiv regime) started a war against itself in Donbass (Ukrainian Civil War):[16]

Back to the OG article 👇👇

Now, hypothetically, you're an independent Western journalist interviewing an eyewitness from Bucha, and the eyewitness had either been "prepared" by the SBU, or simply knows that they will be prosecuted under the law for "denying Russian aggression" if they say anything other than "the Russian soldiers are murderers and thugs"—what "testimony" are you likely to get?

And that's even when the interviewer is truly independent. As we've seen already, this might itself not be the case.

So, on the one hand we have complete de jure and de facto removal of any liability for both the Ukrainian security services as well as for Ukrainian civilians, when they act against "Russian aggression" both real and suspected—while on the other hand, we have increased criminal liability for Russian collaboration (or even "denying Russian aggression" to your friends over the phone) and evidence of acting on this (up to the UN-documented "unlawful killings").

What kind of macro- and micro-behaviour patterns do you think this will unleash?

We have the following passage as it pertains to Bucha, from the AP article about the "traitors" cited above:

In the town of Bucha, now a symbol of horrific violence in the war, Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk said collaborators gave invading troops the names and addresses of pro-Ukrainian activists and officials in the city outside Kyiv, with hundreds of civilians shot to death with their hands tied behind their backs or their bodies burned by Russian forces.

“I saw these execution lists, dictated by the traitors -– the Russians knew in advance who they’re going to, at what address, and who lives there,” said Fedoruk, who saw his own name on one list. “Of course, Ukrainian authorities will search for and punish these people.”

You don't think Kyiv regime or the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists are capable of executing those they consider "traitors"? How else do you think "these people" would be "punished"?

I give you a few tweets for your consideration after Kyiv forces had retaken Izyum and Kupyansk in Kharkov Region:

And here's the essence of why we cannot be sure about the "official" Western narrative about Bucha—I'd even go as far as to say, the exact opposite is more likely to have been the case—and the essence is the balance of probabilities.

Balance of Probabilities: What Is More Likely?

If we take all the above evidence and admit that the Russian troops might've been killing pro-Kyiv civilians, we must then also admit that it is just as likely that the Kyiv troops and/or ultra-national paramilitaries and/or past war criminals were killing pro-Russian civilians. Both alleged mass murders are just as likely, if we take the ascribed means, opportunity, and motive considerations, as well as the percentage split of pro-Kiev-regime versus anti-Kiev-regime / pro-Russian sentiment even around Kiev (60% pro-Kiev versus 40% pro-Russia, using the preference-revealing YourTube searches for pro-Kiev versus pro-Russian war coverage and opinions presented above, accessed on July 17, 2022). ~40% of pro-Russian civilians in and around Kiev is still a lot of civilians for the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and SBU to attack.

And if we bring in the new Kyiv laws into evidence which remove criminal liability from killing Russian soldiers by a Ukrainian civilian, effectively equating the civilian with arms to the Kyiv military, then we have an alternative potential explanation of Russian soldiers acting in self-defence. I don't know how realistic this is in case of execution-style killings, but it cannot be ruled out.

And if we bring into evidence other recent laws and stances of Kyiv, like the law against collaboration with an aggressor and the prevalence of vigilantism, and if we realize that "collaboration" could also easily mean "taking humanitarian help from the Russian soldiers"—then do we not think it highly likely that many civilians would face repercussions from the Kyiv military and (more likely) ultra-nationalistic paramilitary?

Now, I don't have English-language citations on the humanitarian help angle from Western mainstream media though plenty from the anti-Maidan media, but I think given everything else it's far from a wild thing to imagine—do you think this is happening? I.e., Ukrainian civilians being persecuted for taking the humanitarian help from the Russian soldiers?

More importantly, given that all the provided evidence about the alleged Russian atrocities is either from SBU or from the eyewitnesses who under Ukrainian law cannot "deny Russian aggression" (meaning they cannot actually say, "you know what, the Russians treated us well")—how trustworthy do you think is this evidence?

Furthermore, if we bring in an absolutely different behaviour in Kherson and Melitopol, we then must admit that the Russian troops had not in fact been given a directive to kill the civilians. The only difference between Kherson and Melitopol on the one hand, and Bucha on the other, is that Kyiv army and ultra-national paramilitaries have left the former and fought for the latter. So, apart from the differences in the proportion of pro-Russian sentiment around Kiev and in the South, I should say, the only other difference is that Bucha had Kyiv troops nearby, and Kherson and Melitopol hadn't.

Finally, reminding again about the released war criminals fighting on the Kyiv side and there being ultra-nationalist formations with a recent history of war crimes amongst the Kyiv troops, what's more likely: that the regular Russian army would perpetrate war crimes in Bucha against pro-Kyiv civilians, or that those who are fighting on the Kiev side would do the same against the pro-Russian civilians (i.e., alleged collaborators)?

Other "Evidence" and "Fact-Checks" by the Western Media

But wait, we've heard the intercepted Russian soldier radio communication about "killing them all"! We've heard all the witness statements!

Where have we heard about this? From SBU? A security service whose job it is to work for the benefit of the Kiev regime, the same security service that we know forces people to record stuff on video that they don't believe, the same SBU that has a history of kidnappings, unlawful detention, torture?[17]

Because I can find you a dozen similar conversations allegedly from the Kyiv side, and several extremely detailed testimonies by the Kyiv military about being ordered to murder civilians by their superiors (with names, titles, dates and time, civilian names). The specificity makes it infinitely more believable and verifiable. You could claim it's inadmissible because it's "Russian propaganda"—but then why are we admitting this so-called "evidence" from the SBU?

I don't even mention the lies of the former ombudsman Denisova about the alleged "systemic rape" by the Russians in the same region which never happened, which I covered ad nauseam—but it's a rare gem where the fabricator admitted the lies beyond any reasonable doubt.

If we google for "fact check Bucha" (no quotes) we get to this Newsweek article as one of the top search results: Fact Check: Russia Claims Massacre in Bucha 'Staged' by Ukraine.

There's a smorgasbord of debunking, some of it credible and some questionable. I won't go through everything. The Russian claim that the bodies had moving hands was clearly thrown out there in desperation, and easily debunked—though I'm not sure if it was an "official" claim or made on social media.

Let's assumed that these bodies are indeed dead civilians.

Some critical points to note.

  • Timeline: it is key to establish the exact timeline of the events, if we focus on the opportunity aspect. If the Russian forces had left Bucha before the alleged mass murders, then they couldn't have had the opportunity. If it was the days of active shooting at each other where neither side had full control of the city, then both sides had the opportunity.

    While it is difficult to establish an exact chronology of events in the lead up to the Russians' withdrawal from the area, evidence suggests that Russian forces exited the town sometime between March 31 and April 2

    So, we have at best a window where the Russian forces may or may not have been in place to have had the opportunity. Maybe they were. Maybe they weren't. Newsweek presents a case that they may have been there but they themselves say that it is difficult to establish the exact chronology. Neither the State Emergency Service of Ukraine nor the Russian Ministry of Defense returned Newsweek's request for comment at the time they went to print. As of August 5, 2022 there seems to have been no follow-up, either, since the article was posted on April 4, 2022.

  • Russia's evolving narrative is being used as the evidence that Russia is lying. This is a key piece of "fact checking" that Newsweek puts forward as an inditement of Russia's guilt. If they can't even be clear about what happened in Bucha, and we can prove they're grasping at straws, they must've done it! The go into considerable detail about the changing narrative, with the following summary:

    Finally, Russia's official line on the situation in Bucha, unlike Ukraine's version, appears unconvincing, relying on ever-evolving, unevidenced, and at times self-contradictory narratives.

    I find this line preposterous for this simple reason. Say, you are accused of a crime you didn't commit. You had in fact not even been anywhere near the crime scene, but there are witnesses who say they can place you there, and the rest of evidence is circumstantial. What would you do?

    In this scenario, it feels natural to throw out alternative explanations out there, because you just don't know. You cannot have a coherent narrative, because you weren't there. You don't know what happened. Your "official line on the situation" would naturally "appear unconvincing", because you literally don't know what happened and nor are you allowed to go check. You just know you didn't do it, but now you need to prove you didn't do it, rather than the usual case where the prosecution needs to prove (beyond any reasonable doubt) that you did.

    All of this is furthermore happening simultaneously and in real life: your being taken into custody and public trial both. You have no time to prepare, you cannot gather evidence as you have no access to the crime scene nor witnesses. But your prosecutors do have access to all of the above, and they also happen to be an interested party in the case as they benefit from your conviction (here, they get weapons and financial help). Not only do they have access to the crime scene, they also have a track record of witness intimidation and evidence tampering and staging false flag massacres (like in 2014 on Maidan).

    And now the fact that you throw out there possible explanations with no preparation and that contradict each other (of course they do! you don't know the truth, you're just literally grasping at logical straws) is being used against you as a gotcha!

    Am I the only one who thinks this is ridiculous?

  • It's similar to MH17, which means Russia did it! I already covered the issues with what we "know" about MH17 in my first post on the New York Times bias in passing, but you'll see many of the above issues and more in this article from Oliver Boyd-Barrett, a Professor Emeritus at Bowling Green State University, Ohio and at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, who's an expert on international media, news, and propaganda: The MH17 Trial: The Dangers of Presuming the Fairness of a Geopolitically-Driven Enterprise. The article highlights multiple issues with the MH17 investigation. In a nutshell, we don't know much about that, as we don't know much about Bucha. And what we do know—truly know—points in a direction other than Russia.

As a summary, the so-called fact-checks about Bucha are at best troubling and incomplete, and at worst again a hacky hit job. In either case, it is dangerous to be using this (at best incomplete) evidence to make up our mind about what really happened in Bucha. Not when we need evidence beyond any reasonable doubt, which is still a necessary criminal case benchmark to clear.

But wait, there's more!

More "Evidence" from the Guardian and the Washington Post: Russian Troops Shooting at Themselves

Remember how we covered how critical it is for the Russian forces to have been in Bucha to have had the opportunity to commit these war crimes?

Later on, on April 24, 2022, the Guardian published the article called Dozens of Bucha civilians were killed by metal darts from Russian artillery

According to a number of witnesses in Bucha, fléchette rounds were fired by Russian artillery a few days before forces withdrew from the area at the end of March.

If you click through to the Washington Post article linked in the above quote, you read this paragraph:

These projectiles, called fléchettes, are rarely seen or used in modern conflict, experts have said. Many landed in the street in the strike, Chmut said, including some observed by Washington Post reporters, among fields of gear and the occasional liquor bottle or chocolate bar abandoned by retreating Russian soldiers.

We also read this:

Chmut found the projectiles in her car the morning of March 25 or 26, she said, after a night of intense shelling on both sides. It’s not clear if Russian troops were wounded by their own shell. The soldiers set up artillery positions and parked tanks in yards near Chmut’s home but would move into civilian houses at night, she said. Fléchettes would not pose a danger to people inside buildings.

Fléchettes are narrowly shaped to achieve aerodynamic stability and with simple, nail-like manufacturing in mind, said Neil Gibson, a munitions expert at the U.K.-based Fenix Insights group. The fléchettes recovered from Chmut’s yard probably came from a 122 mm 3Sh1 artillery round, he said, which is among a few Russian munitions that carry the projectiles.

Gibson has reviewed photos of those artillery rounds left behind by Russian troops but has not seen their documented use in Ukraine, he said. Maj. Volodymyr Fito, a spokesperson for Ukrainian land forces command, said the Ukrainian military does not use shells with fléchettes.

So, according to this version, fléchettes were used by the Russian forces in the neighbourhoods where the Russian forces were taking up position.

Let me repeat: the Russian troops fired unguided, anti-personnel munition which indiscriminately kills everything around, at the positions occupied by the Russian troops. Kyiv forces could not have done this because their spokesperson told us that they do not use such munitions. The projectiles were Russian because a guy in the UK looked at the photos and said they probably came from a round that the Russians use.

Does this make any sense to you?

What's more likely: Russians shooting at themselves with prohibited munitions and killing civilians, or Kyiv troops shooting at the Russians with prohibited munitions and killing civilians?

Given that NY Times already reported that Kyiv troops shoot cluster munitions at their own villages not caring about the civilian casualties, in order to take back land (as I mentioned above)?

And you could of course argue that in this case, the Russian troops had taken up residence at the civilian infrastructure and thus used the civilians as a human shield, therefore subjecting them to danger. This could all be true and would be another reversal from the Mariupol case.

But it's still a far cry from "the Russian troops mass-murdered civilians in Bucha" narrative.

And I could even claim that the Kyiv side bears more responsibility for protecting its own civilians than the Russian side in this conflict, because protecting Ukrainian civilians is quite literally the responsibility of the Ukrainian Government (that the Kyiv regime claims to be) and its armed forces, by the Ukrainian Constitution. Shooting fléchettes into densely populated quarters where your own civilians live goes against that responsibility.

Other Incentives: Playing at Geopolitics

Let's look at a final piece of evidence by asking: who benefits from the Bucha case as presented by the Kyiv regime and in the Western mainstream media?

Here's a critical sequence of events:

  • Prior to the Russian military action in Ukraine, on February 11, 2022, NY Times publishes the article Armed Nationalists in Ukraine Pose a Threat Not Just to Russia where they wrote this:

    Kyiv is encouraging the arming of nationalist paramilitary groups to thwart a Russian invasion. But they could also destabilize the government if it agrees to a peace deal they reject.

  • During the first weeks of the active fighting, Kyiv and Russia hold negotiations in Belorus.

  • After the first round of the negotiations, one of the Kyiv negotiators is murdered in Kiev. It's only seemingly reported in the media like the Sun, Daily Mail, Mirror—make of this what you will: SPY 'EXECUTED' Ukraine peace negotiator shot dead ‘defending the nation’ amid claims he was a ‘double agent’ working for Russia. There are clearly conflicting reports about whether or not he was a spy and for who, a double-agent, or what? In any case, he was shot dead in an execution-like killing.

  • On March 29, 2022, there was another round of talks in Istanbul, Türkiye, after which both sides announced "progress" in talks, as reported by NY Times in Here’s What Happened on Day 34 of the War in Ukraine, by Ukrainian Pravda (in English) in Russia has announced its vision of agreements with Ukraine, and by Eurasia Business News in Russia Summed Up the Results of Negotiations with Ukraine in Istanbul. Basically, according to the voiced version from Russia (not contradicted by the Kyiv side), Kyiv in principle agreed to all the major points including neutrality, Donbass and Crimea issues, and Russia in turn would show its commitment by withdrawing from Kiev, Chernigov, and Sumy regions.

  • Somewhere between March 31 and April 2, Russian forces withdraw from Bucha, as promised after Istanbul.

  • After the Russian withdrawal (either straight after or after a few days), mass civilian murders are discovered in Bucha. As a direct consequence, Russia is blamed though denies its culpability. The peace negotiations are called off. The West scales up its support to Kyiv, in military, financial, and sanction terms. The fighting continues.

I now ask you this: who benefits from Bucha?

Because the New York Times told us that there are clear forces inside Ukraine who were likely to destabilize the potential peace talks.

Then Bucha destabilized the actual peace talks.

That's the obvious explanation.

You need to think long and hard to find a convoluted explanation where Russia might've wanted to sabotage its own peace talks for whatever reasons where they wanted to prolong the conflict, etc. etc. All of which would be far-fetched. Not impossible, but certainly far-fetched, given all the available rhetoric from both sides.

You could of course say that there are multiple actors on the Russian side, and some local officers perpetrated war crimes in Bucha, which could all be possible except for the claim that the Russian troops are supposed to have fired fléchettes at their own positions, which makes no sense.

And if we accept the possibility of individual Russian officers executing supposedly Kyiv-leaning civilians, we must also admit an equal possibility of the Ukrainian military or nationalistic paramilitaries executing Russian-leaning citizens. I'd say, a more-than-equal possibility, in the case of past convicted war criminals who are now fighting on the Kyiv side.

So, again, we have a situation where using only evidence presented in the West and asking critical questions, we come to a place where the balance of probabilities points at one side, and it's not Russia.

Can I prove the culpability of various Kyiv actors beyond any reasonable doubt? Maybe not, but the above evidence is a strong start and enough for "highly likely".

And I would definitely be comfortable presenting the above evidence at a hypothetical Russian defence against the alleged Mariupol and Bucha war crimes.

A Word on Staging

Finally, this is an interesting thought exercise. It's not strictly speaking necessary, the rest of the analysis stands on its own feet, and what I'm about to write is the weakest link.

The Russian side had been accused of using cadavers in staging alleged crime scenes: ‘Exploiting Cadavers ’and ‘Faked IEDs’: Experts Debunk Staged Pre-War ‘Provocation’ in the Donbas. I have issues with Bellingcat's investigations, but that's not the point here. Point is: Russia is accused of doing something.

Does it not stand to reason that Kyiv could also stage something similar?

There are clear winners and losers from the Bucha situation, as evidenced by the outcomes. Would it not have been possible to stage this?

But stage it not in the sense of using actors, but rather by bringing multiple bodies from all over the Kiev region to create a sense of the scale of atrocities.

Something that does not fit into the narrative of the "genocidal Russian troops" is: why Bucha? What's so special about Bucha? If the Russian troops are really such animals as they are portrayed, why wouldn't we see the same level of atrocities everywhere else? Or at least, in the neighbouring Irpin, Gostomel, etc.?

Again, we only see these alleged atrocities where there is "defensive fighting" by the Kyiv side, and zero atrocities in places where Russians took control without fighting, but we already covered this.

What's so special about Bucha?

It could've been an outlier. If so, we should just report it as such: a tragic outlier. Even as an outlier, it is far from obvious that the Russian side did it, but we covered this also.

Here's where the staging and marketing work together.

Unlike literally any other settlement and city name in Ukraine, "Bucha" the word is very easy for the Westerners to pronounce. For English speakers especially, it sounds like "butcher"—a very useful device if you were to choose a place for staging something like this.

By all accounts the Office of the President is run by Zelensky the Actor's production company 95 Kvartal. Zelensky's performance in his role is outstanding. The production company understands the value of narratives and marketing and movies.

In terms of a potential realistic staging, Zelensky's team has the requisite understanding of the value of narratives, the means and the opportunity.

The motive is less clear, although the subsequent financial and military Western help is as good a motive as anything else. There are also certain parties inside Kyiv decision-making who clearly have the motive and a track record of having done this before (e.g., the ultra-nationalists).

October – November 2022 Addendum: Associated Press / PBS Investigation

I wrote most of this article in July 2022.

On 25 October, 2022, PBS Frontline aired a joint Associated Press / PBS investigation titled Putin’s attack on Ukraine: Documenting War Crimes.

In early November 2022, this was reviewed and dissected by two people who have a label of "Russian propagandists" (of course): Scott Ritter (former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and former UN Special Commission weapons inspector) and Brian Berletic (aka Tony Cartalucci, of The New Atlas):

  • Throwing down the gauntlet on Bucha where "Scott Ritter challenges Andriy Shapovalov [Acting Head of Ukrainian Center for Countering Disinformation (CCD)—AI] to debate war crimes allegations". This coincides with many points in my analysis, highlighting furthermore a major point I identified as likely, except now with concrete evidence beyond any reasonable doubt, namely:

    As for Bucha and Zdvyzhivka, the AP/Frontline reporting underscores another uncomfortable truth—the Ukrainians identified as being killed in both locations were either spies or what is known as francs-tireurs—illegal combatants, and as such subject to summary trial and execution.

  • US-Funded Media Fails to Produce Evidence of Russian "War Crimes"—where Brian goes into many more details than Scott, including the fléchettes discussion that I also wrote about above (except Brian also adds more context by citing an Agence France-Presse / AFP article that confirmed Kyiv forces using fléchettes munitions in Donetsk in 2014—see around the 17:45 mark in the video):

I tweeted about these and some other thoughts in this Twitter thread 🧵👇

No matter how much anyone wants to pin the Bucha war crimes on Russia, even after 6 months of "investigations" they fail to provide any convincing evidence that Russian soldiers committed war crimes in Bucha. You can denounce Scott and Brian all you want, but they just comment on what AP/PBS shows or, more importantly, fails to show.

Bucha Summary

So, what have we shown?

We've again taken almost all our "dirty dozen" thinking principles and applied them to a question of "What really happened in Bucha?"

We've shown:

  • Context: a split civilian population with respect to the pro-Kyiv versus pro-Russian loyalties.

  • Being a detective: both sides had means and opportunity, and both sides could've had motive to "punish" the non-loyal civilians.

  • Being a detective 2: pattern of behaviour. We saw that the Ukrainian far-right has a proven track record of staged false flag massacres going back to their Maidan days in 2014.

  • Recent history and new laws…:

    • …made it easier for the pro-Kyiv civilians to participate in the military conflict ("either spies or what is known as francs-tireurs—illegal combatants").

    • …made it illegal to "deny Russian aggression" thereby biasing any evidence given (or else a person can end up in a criminal court).

  • Using all the evidence we have about murder lists and doxing in Izyum, extra-judicial "disappearances" of people suspected in "collaboration" in Kupyansk, unlawful killings by the SBU, cracking down on "traitors" articles… it paints a picture where mass murders of "collaborators" in Bucha would be par for the course for the Kyiv regime and pro-Kyiv militias.

  • What would need to be true? and Alternative hypotheses:

    • Russian culpability for Bucha can only be proven if you accept that Russians are somehow all of them bloodthirsty orcs rather than human beings.

    • We've also seen that in Kherson and Melitopol and in other places, Russian soldiers behave completely differently, invalidating the "bloodthirsty orc" hypothesis.

    • So, why Bucha?

    • What's similar between Bucha and Izyum and Kupyansk but different in Melitopol and Kherson is that in the first 3, Kyiv forces captured them back, Melitopol and Kherson were (relatively) peacefully transitioned, and Russia evacuated the vast majority of the pro-Russian civilians from Kherson's Right Bank of Dnieper to the Left before leaving the mostly empty city to the Kyiv revenge. Or to be more precise: the vast majority of the Kherson civilians, period, as they are also vastly pro-Russian; most of the people who stayed were fiercely pro-Kyiv.

    • There's more evidence for systemic viciousness of the pro-Kyiv ultranationalist and far-right forces as opposed to the Russian troops.

  • Debunking the Western mainstream media "fact-checkers" with simple logic, like for example applying simple self-preservation logic, it's clear that Russian troops wouldn't be shooting at their own positions with unguided nail-like fléchettes.

  • Using all we know about the "dangerous nationalists" from NY Times, it is also highly likely that Bucha was used to destabilize a potential peace agreement reached in Istanbul.

  • Even after 6 months, Western "investigative journalists" failed to provide any evidence of the war crimes being committed by the Russian soldiers.

  • Combining legal setting using Kyiv own laws and criminal cases, with the actors' incentives, with what's been said officially and which statements we can believe and which we cannot, the cumulative evidence points away from Russia and rather at the high likelihood of the Kyiv regime being behind the Bucha war crime (or staging).

Again, I leave it up to you to review all and think for yourself if you find my case convincing.


We've covered a question of 2 hot-spots of the Russia's alleged war crimes: Mariupol and Bucha. These cases have similarities in some backgrounds but key differences also.

That they are indeed war crimes we can agree. I have made a case as to why, given all the evidence we're presented with even after many months of "investigations", it is highly unlikely that the Russian troops have perpetrated the crimes in question. It is highly likely that somebody from the Kyiv side had done so: after all, there were recently released convicted war criminals fighting for the Kyiv regime, SBU has a track record of extra-judicial killings, and the Ukrainian far-right is known for proven staged false flag massacres from their Maidan days.

I have used nothing other than the Western mainstream media and the Ukrainian media as evidence, and I applied critical thinking and game theory principles to the evidence presented to us. I purposefully stayed away from the Russian media. Even Scott Ritter's and Brian Berletic's pieces are nothing other than a breakdown of the AP/PBS investigation.

Now, I must add, I am not saying that there are absolutely no crimes being committed by the Russian and Donbass sides in this conflict. There could very well be isolated instances, as many past crimes from both sides had been reported by the same entities I cite above, like Amnesty International.

Having said that, given the abject and blatant lies and fabrications like Denisova's allegations, Mariupol, Bucha and other cases, based on all the evidence presented and IMO beyond any reasonable doubt, I'm leaning towards rejecting any claims of the Russian or Donbass troops alleged war crimes—at least until those are proven beyond any reasonable doubt. The Kyiv troops and SBU crimes are proven beyond any reasonable doubt, given the far-right involvement and the proven massacres perpetrated on Maidan and in Odessa in 2014. Again, one side started the violence. The other side (Crimea and Donbass) responded with self-protection. This cause-effect sequence is important, both legally and morally.

Still, the goal here is therefore not to white-wash the Russian Army as a primary objective. Instead, the main goal is to highlight how whitewashing the Kyiv regime and Kyiv Army and SBU and the ultra-nationalists is both evidentiarily wrong and also counter-productive to truly understanding the situation, and therefore to solving the complex issue. And ultimately, the goal is to understand and then solve the problem of the humanitarian disaster and the civil war that unravelled after the violent and unconstitutional 2014 Maidan insurgency and coup.

Again, I do not condone violence. But then we must first denounce the Kyiv violence towards Donbass and the South-East in general over the past 8 years since 2014 and counting, as well as the Maidan insurrection itself.


  1. See Are You Solving the Right Problems? by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg in HBR (January–February 2017) for more discussion on this. ↩︎

  2. Zelensky Accuses Russia Of Genocide As Allegations Of Civilian Killings Mount ↩︎

  3. How do I know? Well, there is no evidence to the contrary, and various independent bloggers show peaceful lives with working street markets and cafés, have a look at some random videos of this guy from Kherson, for instance: even without understanding Russian, you can get the mood. It's not an "official" Russian media, either, just some Kherson citizen living there his whole life.

    Of course, starting somewhere in May and escalating all the way through July 2022 (and ongoing), Kherson region and city both had been subjected to artillery and rocket attacks, increasingly with the NATO-supplied weapons. For example, an attack on Nova Kakhovka on July 11, 2022, which had been reported in the Guardian (Ukrainian strike on Russian-held town attributed to US-supplied missile) and on BBC (Ukraine claims arms depot attack in occupied Kherson with Himars rockets).

    As is usual in this war, the attackers claim that they struck an arms depot, while the defenders claim that it was a senseless attack on civilian infrastructure. In this case, the Russian officials claim "warehouses containing the mineral fertiliser saltpetre had exploded - a claim ridiculed by Ukrainian officials" (according to BBC). Doing a quick check on saltpeter I find that it can, indeed, lead to explosion risks: Potassium Nitrate Risks so I don't quite understand how this claim can be "ridiculed".

    On the flip side, BBC also reports this by a Kyiv official, Mr Khlan:

    Mr Khlan appealed to residents to avoid the areas under attack, asserting that those whose windows had been blown out were happy as they realised Ukrainian forces were close.

    Abstracting from emotions, it seems to me that "a saltpetre warehouse hit by a Himars rocket leading to a massive explosion" is indeed a very plausible claim, while "civilians whose windows were blown out by explosions being happy" is actually a fairly ridiculous claim.

    But this is not about Kherson and Nova Kakhovka, where pro-Kyiv sentiment is overblown by the Kyiv regime. It exists, but the reality was probably 50-50 before 2022, and the pro-Kyiv sentiment has decreased fast with every subsequent rocket strike at Kherson region. People are most certainly not happy their windows are being blown out—just like the civilians in Western Ukraine aren't too thrilled with the Russian strikes. ↩︎

  4. Some of this is evidenced in what the Kyiv side said on May 2, 2022, in Russian forces resume massive shelling of Azovstal plant after evacuation effort:

    "When the invaders failed to implement their priority plans, they began destroying the area with heavier weapons. Over the last two days, while the operation to remove the local population from the plant was being carried out, a ceasefire was announced, and two days went peacefully. But as soon as the last civilian (from the group approved for evacuation on Sunday - ed.) left the plant, (soon after that - ed.), the plant came under fire, again, as all kinds of weapons were employed," Schleha said.

    Now, because Azovstal is large and because the civilians were in different places around the plant, the evacuation was taking place over a number of days, with the last civilians evacuated by May 10, 2022. After which point more heavy bombardment and storming of Azovstal followed (see a Ukrainian blog here and the Guardian entry here).

    But on May 2, 2022, you'll also note this comment:

    Separately, the commander clarified that, according to their estimates, there are still several hundred civilians remaining in the Azovstal bunkers, including up to 20 children.

    This makes sense when considering various stronghold points in different parts of the large plant. We know that these civilians had been evacuated in the subsequent days by the UN and the International Red Cross. To me, the leading quote is key in that article by the Ukrainian media from May 2, 2022, that I cited above, quoting the Commander of the 12th National Guard Brigade, Denys Schleha (full quote with editor's remarks above):

    "[…] they began destroying the area with heavier weapons. […] while the operation to remove the local population from the plant was being carried out, a ceasefire was announced, and two days went peacefully. But as soon as the last civilian left the plant, the plant came under fire, again, as all kinds of weapons were employed," Schleha said.

  5. There can be no ‘hiding from the war’ for European nations, an adviser to Zelensky says. ↩︎

  6. Transcript snippets published in the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN: Зеленский рассказал, будет ли эвакуация из Киева из-за уничтожения инфраструктуры. The original snippet text in Russian:

    Но я вам точно хочу сказать: если город будет пуст, его очень просто захватить. Это примеры и исторические, и примеры нашего государства.

  7. However! If this were the idea—and certainly logically, this sounds like a plausible (if humanly horrific) rationalization—then it seems to be backfiring. This is evidenced by such quotes from the above-mentioned Amnesty International report like this one:

    “We have no say in what the military does, but we pay the price,” a resident whose home was also damaged in the strike told Amnesty.

    It seems that a large number (in some cities, the majority of) the civilians end up blaming Kyiv forces who use their houses for cover, rather than blaming the Russian forces who end up shooting at those houses. ↩︎

  8. You'll find a .pdf of UN numbers as of end-January 2022 here. We'll see some of this through the NYT reporting cited in this article, too. ↩︎

  9. Enmity and Civilian Toll Rise in Ukraine While Attention Is Diverted ↩︎

  10. BBC's Neo-Nazi threat in new Ukraine: NEWSNIGHT ↩︎

  11. ‘Fuck the EU’: US diplomat Victoria Nuland's phonecall leaked - video ↩︎

  12. Crimea referendum was in March, therefore in response only to Maidan and the murders of peaceful Anti-Maidan protesters from Crimea in Kiev. Donbass was also influenced by the Odessa Trade Unions House Massacre. ↩︎

  13. It's a short article I place here in full: Poll: More Ukrainians disapprove of EuroMaidan protests than approve of it | Kyiv Post; 7 February, 2014

    About 45% of Ukrainians support the demonstrations in favor of Ukraine's closer relations with Europe, known as Euromaidan, while 48% do not support them and 7% are undecided, a poll of 2,600 respondents conducted in Ukraine on January 17-30 has shown.

    The respondents of a survey concerning reasons and implications of the sociopolitical crisis in the country conducted by the company Rating+ under a contract with the Ukrainian Forum sociopolitical association were able to choose more than one answer, and therefore the sum of the answers in some cases is more than 100%.

    Asked about the reasons why some people do not support the protests, 50% mentioned mistrust in the opposition leaders, 39% rejection of radical forms of protest, 33% concerns about economic stability, and 26% frustration with politics as such.

    At the same time, 45% of those polled fully or partially supported the Ukrainian president’s and the government’s decision to postpone the signature of an association agreement and a free trade area between Ukraine and the European Union, 42% disapproved of it, and 13% are undecided.

    The poll showed also that 17% of the respondents have taken part in the Euromaidan actions, while 81% have not.

    As many as 42% of Ukrainians are not going to take part in any protests, about one third could join only peaceful rallies and demonstrations, and 13% could agree to sign some petition, appeal, or open letter.

    Only 3% of those polled are potentially ready to join an armed rebellion, and only 1% could personally take part in seizing administrative buildings and blocking transportation routes.

  14. Oleksandr Turchynov | Wikipedia ↩︎

  15. See Air attack on pro-Russian separatists in Luhansk kills 8, stuns residents | CNN; 3 June, 2014, Despite Denials, All Evidence For Deadly Explosion Points To Kyiv | Radio Free Europe; 4 June, 2014, or even the Lugansk section in Wikipedia on 2014 Russian Spring. ↩︎

  16. На Сумщині притягнули до відповідальності жінку, яка стверджувала, що Україна сама почала війну проти своїх людей | Sumy Post; 9 February, 2023 ↩︎

  17. See the sub-section SECRET DETENTION FACILITIES OF UKRAINE’S SECURITY SERVICE on this Amnesty International site. ↩︎