German intelligence officials say they have intercepted radio communications in which Russian troops discussed indiscriminately killing civilians in Ukraine, undercutting claims by Moscow that atrocities were only committed after its military left occupied suburbs near the capital of Kyiv.
The officials, who briefed members of parliament Wednesday, described two separate communications in which Russian soldiers described how they questioned Ukrainian soldiers and civilians before shooting them.
Der Spiegel reported a Russian soldier could be heard describing how he shot someone on a bicycle.
Earlier this week, aerial footage verified independently by The New York Times shows a Russian armored vehicle shooting at a civilian on a bicycle in Bucha. It is not clear whether the person in the video was the same as the one referred to in the radio messages.
Even as Moscow denies targeting civilians, world opinion has galvanized against Russia in the last week as pictures and video footage have emerged from the scenes of carnage in Bucha. The bodies of civilians have been found lying in the streets after Russian for forces were pushed back from a string of villages north of Kyiv.
Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk told VOA’s Russian Service he was shocked to see the bodies left behind and the destruction in his town.
“As a historian, I thought that even during the war some rules are followed,” he said, adding that it will take much time to rebuild the infrastructure of the city and that it is too soon to think about coming back for those who ran from the occupation at the beginning of the war.
The United States and its Western allies have launched war crimes investigations of the killings in Bucha and other Ukrainian towns, with U.S. President Joe Biden saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin should face a war crimes trial.
One German intelligence official said that Berlin has satellite images that show Russia’s involvement in the Bucha killings, although the radio transmissions have yet to be linked to that location. Germany’s foreign intelligence service, known as the BND, may be able to tie the satellite images to the radio intercepts.
Officials said the radio traffic appears to suggest that the Wagner Group, a private military unit with close ties to Putin and his allies, or another private contractor, may have played a role in attacking the civilians.
As Russia’s attack on Ukraine has played out over the last six weeks, Western defense and intelligence analysts say that Russian troop reliance on unsecured communication devices, including smartphones and push-to-talk radios, has left them vulnerable to targeting.
VOA Russian Service contributed to this report.