AMAC Exclusive-By Ben Solis
As more photos and eyewitness accounts emerge detailing the Russian massacre in Bucha, Ukraine, the world has been rightly horrified and demanded a full international investigation. But the typical mainstream media narrative that the atrocity was revenge for Ukraine’s stiff resistance to the Russian invasion as well as evidence of the predations of the Russian army is perhaps too shallow a conclusion. Rather than just being an isolated incident, the Bucha massacre has eerie parallels to another needless slaughter in Eastern Europe 82 years ago, and serves as a poignant reminder that evil left unpunished only sustains the problem for future generations to suffer anew.
With the world heading toward war in August of 1939, German leader Adolf Hitler and Soviet leader Josef Stalin shocked the world by signing a “nonaggression pact,” both agreeing to take no military action against one another for 10 years. Though the pact would be broken by Hitler in 1941, it lasted long enough for the Nazis and Soviets to sweep into Poland and divide the country up amongst themselves.
While Polish Jews in the Nazi-occupied sector would be rounded up and eventually marched off to concentration camps, Polish elites in the Soviet sector had their own hell waiting for them. Soon after the invasion, the Red Army began rounding up Polish military officers and other intelligentsia and transporting them to a forested region in Russia known as Katyn.
On March 5, 1940, with the number of Polish officers imprisoned in Russia reaching nearly 22,000, Stalin signed their death warrant – all were to be given “the supreme penalty: shooting.” Over the next two months, the NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, systematically exterminated these “hardened and uncompromising enemies of Soviet authority.”
Nazi occupiers uncovered many of the mass graves used to dispose of the bodies of these prisoners during their invasion of the Soviet Union 1943. Surviving accounts detail empty vodka bottles strewn amongst the corpses, indicating the executioners were likely drunk throughout the ordeal. Many bodies were mutilated and torn apart, stacked in cases 12-high throughout the forest.
The Russian government was quick to first deny that any massacre had occurred and then blamed the Nazis for it. But as Polish journalist and novelist Józef Mackiewicz would later reveal, investigators uncovered letters in the pockets of victims dated from the early months of 1940. All evidence pointed to the Soviet regime being responsible, a fact that Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was quick to plaster all over German newsreels.
But few in the West were willing to reproach the Soviets or even discuss the atrocity, for fear that it might alienate their ally at a crucial point in the war. Many western media outlets even deliberately obfuscated the truth about the incident, lending credence to what would become known as the “Katyn lie.”
The truth about the Katyn massacre would not be acknowledged by Moscow until the fall of the Soviet Union, when Gorbachev finally made certain documents available to the public, including Stalin’s order to kill the Polish prisoners. By that time, however, all the perpetrators were long dead, and punishment for their crimes had been put in the hands of God. For the thousands of Polish families who had lost loved ones, this was of little comfort.
Today, the same sinister ideology that led to the Katyn massacre can be seen in the Bucha killings. Just like Stalin targeted Polish military officers and societal elites, early evidence suggests that Putin’s army chose their victims by things like tattoos indicating service in the Ukrainian military. Footage from the scene shows liquor bottles strewn about, the soldiers numbing themselves before carrying out their gruesome tasks.
Just like Stalin, Putin has denied that the Bucha massacre occurred at all, labeling images of the killings “fake” and “Western propaganda.” No doubt drawing on the lessons learned during his time in the KGB, he is hoping that denial and a fear among Western leaders of provoking a nuclear superpower in Russia will allow him to escape punishment for these crimes.
There is some evidence that Western leaders knew about Putin’s intentions when invading Ukraine. Early this month, Britain’s intelligence chief tweeted that “we knew Putin’s invasion plans included summary executions by his military and intelligence services.” But only after those crimes became public was that information released. While many Western governments have called for a full investigation into the Bucha killings, it’s fair to ask – is this another Katyn moment? Will Putin and his henchmen truly be held responsible? The world waits anxiously to find out.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian and researcher.