A brigade accused of committing war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha has been awarded an honorary title by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a signed letter on Monday, Putin congratulated Russia’s 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade for their “great heroism and courage” and awarded the unit the title of "Guards" for “protecting Russia’s sovereignty.”
“This high distinction recognizes your special merits, great heroism and courage in defending your fatherland, and in protecting Russia’s sovereignty and national interests,” Putin said in the letter.
“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,” the letter continued.
Earlier this month, mass graves full of hundreds of murdered civilians -- which CNN teams visited -- were discovered in the towns of Bucha and Borodyanka following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kyiv region.
In a statement issued April 4, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense named the servicemen of the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade as war criminals directly involved in the atrocities committed against the civilians of Bucha.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has blamed Russia for the killings and called on Moscow to stop committing "war crimes."
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the mass killings, while reiterating baseless claims that the images of civilian bodies on the streets of Bucha are fake.
During a visit to Bucha and Borodyanka last week, International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said there were “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC are being committed.”
But Khan also warned that it would be “challenging” to guarantee justice would be served in Ukraine, given Russia’s decision to withdraw its signature from an ICC statute that gives the court jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.
Russia does not extradite its citizens to other countries.