BERLIN -- Germany's foreign intelligence, known as the BND, says it intercepted radio communications in which Russian soldiers discussed executing Ukrainian civilians, the Washington Post reported Thursday (April 7).
The Russian soldiers were caught discussing how they question captured Ukrainians before shooting them, according to two separate communications.
The findings, first reported by the German magazine Der Spiegel and confirmed by three people briefed on the information, further undermine claims by Russia that atrocities -- including in the town of Bucha -- are being carried out only after its soldiers leave occupied areas.
The radio traffic suggests members of the Wagner Group, a private mercenary group tied to the Kremlin, played a role in the atrocities, people familiar with the findings say.
Satellite pictures from last month provided strong counter-evidence against Russian denials of involvement in civilian deaths in Bucha, near the capital Kyiv, the German government said on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, local authorities had to dig communal graves to bury the dead accumulating in the streets of Bucha and other areas around the capital, including some bodies found with their hands bound behind their backs, in scenes that sent shock waves around the world more than a month into Russia's invasion.
More than 400 Ukrainian civilians were found executed.
Some of the intercepted radio traffic apparently matches the locations of bodies found along the main road in Bucha, according to Der Spiegel.
In one of the communications, a soldier tells another that they had just shot a person on a bicycle, the magazine reports. In another intercepted conversation, a man is heard saying: "First you interrogate soldiers, then you shoot them."
Part of a pattern
Indiscriminate killing of civilians is nothing new for the Wagner Group.
Just this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Malian forces and members of Wagner of executing about 300 civilians in the town of Moura in late March.
In a report published Tuesday, the rights group suggested that the alleged massacre perpetrated over four days in Moura was a war crime.
Malian soldiers and white foreign fighters arrived in the town by helicopter on March 27 and exchanged fire with about 30 Islamist fighters, several witnesses told HRW. Some extremists then attempted to blend in with the local population.
Over the ensuing days, Malian and foreign fighters allegedly rounded up civilians and executed them in small groups.
About 300 people were killed in total, with the vast majority of the victims being ethnic Fulanis, estimates HRW.
"The incident is the worst single atrocity reported in Mali's decade-long armed conflict," the report said.
The Wagner Group now has also deployed its mercenaries to eastern Ukraine, the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence said in late March, adding that more than 1,000 would likely fight in Ukraine following Russian setbacks.
"Due to heavy losses and a largely stalled invasion, Russia has highly likely been forced to reprioritise Wagner personnel for Ukraine at the expense of operations in Africa and Syria," the ministry said.
The Kremlin has even stepped up its recruitment of Syrian youth into Wagner's ranks to use them as cannon fodder for its assault on Ukraine, observers said.
This strategy is designed to minimise the risk to Russian soldiers and reduce the number of Russian casualties, they said, in order to prevent unrest in the Russian interior.
Wagner mercenaries first deployed to Ukraine in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. Since then, the Kremlin has been fuelling a simmering separatist conflict in the east of the country that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
In subsequent years, Wagner mercenaries have been involved in conflicts around the world, including in Syria, Mozambique, Sudan, Venezuela, Libya, the Central African Republic, Chad and Mali.