The Russian infantry unit suspected in the mass killings that filled mass graves in Bucha, Ukraine have now been hailed by Putin for their "mass heroism and valor," per the Independent. The Russian president awarded the honorary title of "Guards" to the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade for "protecting Russia’s sovereignty," reports CNN. Putin’s congratulatory statement also said: "Through astute and bold actions during the special military operation in Ukraine, the unit's staff became a role model in fulfilling its military duty, valor, dedication, and professionalism."
Russian troops left a trail of horrors when they fled Bucha in early April. Reporters from major news outlets—plus observers from the ICC and other human rights groups—have since verified evidence of a brutal terror campaign and likely war crimes, including widespread executions, rape, and torture. The New York Times says investigators have found "clear patterns" of human rights abuses. The Times also notes that Putin has a history of awarding his most brutal minions, including Chechen leader Ramzan "Lord" Katyrov, who received the Hero of Russia medal—the nation’s highest—for actions in 2004 that included allegations of kidnapping and torture.
The 64th Brigade was identified by the Ukrainian military and labeled "Butchers of Bucha" based on clues they left behind, including a cell phone and Instagram account said to include snapshots of soldiers from the unit, reports Radio Free Europe. Earlier this month, Ukraine’s military intelligence released a list with what it said was hundreds of names and other identifying information of members of the brigade. Although reporters were unable to verify the list, it shows Ukrainians are actively hunting the 64th and other units blamed for atrocities in Bucha and elsewhere. Russian authorities continue to deny responsibility and assert without evidence that images of dead bodies are all staged. (Read more war crimes stories.)