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Russia-Ukraine war: catch up on this week’s must-read news and analysis

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Show caption As Russia continued its attacks on Kharkiv, as signs of a more intense push by Putin’s forces east and south of Ukraine mounted this week. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters Ukraine Russia-Ukraine war: catch up on this week’s must-read news and analysis Fresh details of savagery in Bucha … Putin’s new military commander … are Russia’s weapons of choice getting worse? Russia-Ukraine war: latest updates Guardian staff Fri 15 Apr 2022 21.00 BST Share on Facebook

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Every week we wrap up the must-reads from our coverage of the Ukraine war, from news and features to analysis, visual guides and opinion.

‘They made him kneel and shot him in the head’

Luke Harding travelled to Bucha and spoke to one resident who recounted the murder of her nephew, one of the casualties of the carnage wrought by Russian forces.

Natasha Alexandrova was at home when three Russian soldiers banged on her front gate. It was 4 March. Vladimir Putin’s army had captured the city of Bucha, 18.5 miles (30km) north-west of Kyiv, after ferocious fighting. One unit parked itself at the bottom of Alexandrova’s street.

She lived with her 26-year-old nephew, Volodymyr Cherednichenko, and his mother.

Natasha Alexandrova outside the house in Bucha where her nephew Volodymyr was held prisoner and then killed by Russian troops. Photograph: Volodya Yurchenko/The Guardian

The soldiers shoved Cherednichenko into their armoured personnel carrier. His mother brought him a warm coat and shoes. “They told us they were taking him into town for further interrogation and would bring him back after three days.”

His body was found weeks later in a dank garden cellar. “They made him kneel and shot him in the side of the head, through the ear,” Alexandrova said. “He was wearing the same coat his mother gave him.”

Inside Ukraine’s suburban horror: ‘I have nothing left’ – video

Russia’s new general helped turn tide of Syrian war

Martin Chulov examined Vladimir Putin’s appointment of a new general to lead efforts to reboot the invasion of Ukraine. Gen Aleksandr Dvornikov played a prominent role in the Syrian war, where forces under his command were responsible for widespread abuses against the civilian population and were frequently accused of committing crimes against humanity.

Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Dvornikov in Moscow in 2016. Photograph: SPUTNIK/Reuters

Russia’s Syrian campaign was viewed by Putin as a success, and he awarded Dvornikov the hero of Russia medal, one of the country’s highest awards. Dvornikov, who has served as commander of the southern military district since 2016, faces a very different set of challenges in Ukraine, where the Russian air force does not control the skies and its ground forces have been seriously depleted by regular supplies of advanced weaponry that was unavailable to Syrian rebels.

Putin ‘using weapons smuggled by Iran from Iraq’

Russia is receiving munitions and military hardware sourced from Iraq for its war effort in Ukraine with the help of Iranian weapons smuggling networks, according to members of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias and regional intelligence services with knowledge of the process, write Bethan McKernan and Vera Mironova.

RPGs and anti-tank missiles, as well as Brazilian-designed rocket launcher systems, have been dispatched to Russia from Iraq as Moscow’s campaign has faltered in the last month, the Guardian has learned. An Iranian-made Bavar 373 missile system, similar to the Russian S-300, has also been donated to Moscow by the authorities in Tehran, who also returned an S-300, according to a source who helped organise the transport.

Using the weapons-trafficking underworld would signal a dramatic shift in Russian strategy, as Moscow is forced to lean on Iran, its military ally in Syria, after new sanctions triggered by the invasion of Ukraine. The developments also have huge implications for the direction and volume of trade in the international weapons trafficking business.

An Iran-made Bavar-373 air-defence missile system is understood to have been donated to Moscow by Tehran. Photograph: AP

Long road to recovery after train station attack

Bethan McKernan also wrote about the Ukrainians who narrowly escaped a missile attack and were left with devastating injuries.

The evacuation train that was supposed to arrive in the Ukrainian town of Kramatorsk last Friday was late. Andrei Kovalov was standing on the busy platform waiting for the service that would take him west, far away from the fighting, which is on the verge of engulfing his home town of Bakhmut in Donetsk. The 45-year-old was among up to 4,000 other civilians at the train station that morning fleeing the advance of Russian troops across the country’s east.

The war managed to find them anyway. Before the train to Dnipro pulled in, two ballistic missiles exploded over the railway station building, dropping deadly cluster munitions – illegal under international law because of the indiscriminate damage they cause over a wide area – all over the concourse and baggage hall.

“I remember it very clearly. I thought I could hear a plane, and then I was thrown on the floor,” Kovalov said from his hospital bed in the Dnipropetrovsk region. “The first minute was total chaos. The emergency response tents caught fire, cars caught fire. There was blood and smoke everywhere.”

Doctors are hopeful Andrei Kovalov will walk again after his legs were lacerated by shrapnel. Photograph: Anastasia Taylor-Lind/The Guardian

How conspiracy theory about Ukrainian ‘bioweapons labs’ took off

In the hours after Russia invaded Ukraine, a longtime QAnon follower tweeted that approximately 30 US-funded ‘biolabs’ were dotted across Ukraine. Putin’s assault on Ukraine, he theorised, was really about stopping an American-orchestrated biological attack on Russia. He was just remixing an allegation Moscow had made for years: that the US was running a secret bioweapons programme and had Russia in its sights. But from that single tweet, the conspiracy theory quickly spread.

Even before Fox News’s Tucker Carlson amplified the theory, the Canadian journalist Justin Ling had been watching it spread across the internet. He told Michael Safi that watching it gain momentum, he could see Russia’s techniques for amplifying disinformation in action.

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‘They took our clothes’: Ukrainians returning to looted homes

When Russian soldiers left the village of Novyi Bykiv after a month of occupation, Natalia Samson returned to her house to find they had stolen her perfumes, jewellery, some wine, a scooter, a novelty cushion and a collection of old coins.

As Shaun Walker and Andrew Roth write, a few days later she ventured into the village school, where she works as the deputy headteacher, and discovered the Russians had taken most of the computers, the projectors and other electronic equipment.

“People saw them simply loading everything on to Ural trucks, everything they could get their hands on,” said Samson. A dozen houses on the village’s main street had been looted, as well as all the shops. Other villagers reported losing washing machines, food, laptops and even a sofa.

Residents returning to Novyi Bykiv found their homes had been looted by Russian soldiers. Photograph: Sviatoslav Medyk

Are Russia’s weapons of choice getting worse?

Dan Sabbagh analysed Russia’s indiscriminate use of weaponry that has led to high numbers of civilian deaths.

A Russian tank is filmed firing on apartments in Mariupol; evidence emerges that a cluster bomb was used to strike against the train station in Kramatorsk and concerns surface about the possible use of phosphorus in Ukraine’s cities. Moscow’s forces have been repeatedly accused of using indiscriminate weapons in cities throughout the seven-week-long Ukraine war, a disregard for civilian life that has already almost certainly led to thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Concerns too circulate about an escalation of the conflict through the use of other banned weapons – but this is less certain. Britain’s Ministry of Defence is still investigating a report from earlier this week that chemical weapons were used by Russia in Mariupol, affecting three people.

Remnants of the city of Bucha after bombing by Russian forces Photograph: LOUAI-BARAKAT/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Our visual guide to the invasion is updated regularly and can be found here.