Clutching flowers and wiping away tears, relatives, neighbors and friends of eight men executed by Russian forces during the occupation of the Ukrainian town of Bucha gathered on March 4 to mark the first anniversary of the deaths.

The eight had set up a roadblock in an attempt to prevent Russian troops from advancing as they swept toward Kyiv, Ukrane’s capital, at the start of their invasion. But the men were captured, Ukrainian authorities say, and executed.

Their bodies lay outside a building on Yablunska Street for a month, with relatives only able to collect them in April after Russian troops pulled out of Bucha.

After the Russians left, Ukrainian authorities found mass graves and bodies strewn in the town’s streets, buildings and homes. The events there are being investigated as war crimes.

“My heart is torn apart and my soul is in such pain for everyone who died here,” said Oleksandr Turovskyi, whose 35-year-old son, Sviatoslav, was among the eight.

Photos of the men now hang on the wall of the building where they were found, between two blue and yellow Ukrainian flags. A wreath of red plastic roses and bouquets of blue and yellow flowers lean against the wall beneath the pictures.

As relatives gathered for the anniversary commemoration, Halyna Stakhova, 67, tenderly touched the photo of Sviatoslav Turovskyi, her son-in-law. Her lip trembled and she wiped away a tear.

She lived in a basement in Bucha during the occupation, she said, and relatives told her Svietoslav had been executed. At first, Stakhova refused to believe them, but she eventually had to accept that her daughter’s husband was dead.

“We were trying to get the body back,” she said. “But the Russians said: ‘Do you want to end up lying beside him? Ok, let’s go.’ So we waited for one month to collect the body.”

Nataliia Matviichuk, whose 37-year-old brother, Andrii was among the eight, said the killings had brought the families of those lost together.

“In the history of Ukraine, the city and every Ukrainian family, and of course our families, this has been the hardest and the scariest year,” she said. “I cannot express this pain or sorrow with any words, and any amount of tears would be less than enough.”

At the age of 81, Anna Levchenko braved the icy wind and post-surgery pain in her leg to attend the ceremony. Great-aunt to Nataliia and Andrii Matviichuk, she said the two considered her their grandmother.

“One year has passed, but I still have all these images in my head,” Levchenko said. “My father had told me after World War II that there would be no more war for another 200-300 years. But look at what happened. Nobody was expecting this.”

Elena Becatoros

Associated Press

BUCHA, Ukraine

Thibault Camus (AP)