IZIUM, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities have uncovered a mass burial site near a recaptured northeastern town previously occupied by Russian forces, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced late Thursday.
The tomb was discovered near Izium in the Kharkiv region.
“The necessary steps have already begun there. More information – clear and verifiable information – should be available tomorrow,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly televised address.
Associated Press reporters saw the site Thursday in a forest outside of Izium. Amidst the trees were hundreds of graves with simple wooden crosses, most marked only with numbers. A larger grave bore a marker indicating that it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.
Investigators equipped with metal detectors scanned the site for hidden explosives.
Oleg Kotenko, an official with Ukraine’s ministry responsible for reintegrating occupied territories, said videos posted by Russian soldiers on social media indicated there were likely more than 17 bodies in the grave.
“We haven’t counted them yet, but I think there are more than 25 or even 30,” he said.
A resident of Izium, Sergei Gorodko, said that among the hundreds buried in individual graves, dozens of adults and children were killed in a Russian airstrike on an apartment building.
He said he pulled some of them out of the rubble “with my own hands”.
Zelenskyy cited the names of other Ukrainian towns where authorities said retreating Russian troops remained behind mass graves of civilians and evidence of possible war crimes.
” Ring, Mariupol, now, unfortunately, Izium. … Russia leaves death everywhere. And he must be held accountable for it. The world must make Russia take real responsibility in this war,” he said in his speech.
Sergei Bolvinov, senior Ukrainian police investigator in the eastern region of Kharkiv, told British television channel Sky News that a grave containing more than 440 bodies had been discovered near Izium after forces arrived from Kyiv. . He described the tomb as “one of the greatest burials”. sites in any liberated city.
Some of the people buried in the pit were shot. Others died from artillery fire, mines or airstrikes. Many bodies have yet to be identified, Bolvinov said.
Russian forces left Izium and other parts of the Kharkiv region last week amid a stunning Ukrainian counteroffensive. On Wednesday, Zelenskyy made a rare trip outside the capital to watch the raising of the national flag at Izium’s town hall.
Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Enin said late Thursday that other evidence found after Kyiv’s sweeping advance into the Kharkiv region included several “torture chambers” where Ukrainian citizens and foreigners were being held. “in totally inhumane conditions”.
“We have already encountered the exhumation of individual bodies, not only with traces of violent death, but also of torture – cut off ears, etc. This is only the beginning,” Enin said in an interview with Ukrainian radio. NV.
He claimed that among those detained at one of the sites were students from an unspecified Asian country who were captured at a Russian checkpoint as they tried to leave for Ukrainian-held territory.
Enin did not specify where the students were being held, although he named the small towns of Balakliya and Volchansk as two places where torture chambers were found. His account could not be independently verified.
“All these traces of war crimes are now carefully documented by us. And we know from Bucha’s experience that the worst crimes can only be revealed over time,” Enin said, referring to a Kyiv suburb where the bodies of hundreds of civilians were discovered after the withdrawal. of the Russian army in the region in March.
Earlier on Thursday, Zelenskyy said that during the five months the Russians occupied the region, they “have only destroyed, only deprived, only taken away”.
“They left devastated villages behind; in some of them there is not a single house intact. The occupiers have turned schools into dumps and churches – shattered, literally turned into toilets.
In other developments Thursday, Zelenskyy worked to add political momentum to Ukraine’s recent military gains, while missile strikes that caused flooding near his hometown demonstrated Moscow’s determination to reclaim the battlefield advantage.
A week after the Ukrainian counteroffensive, Zelenskyy met with European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen on her third wartime visit to Kyiv. Von der Leyen publicly expressed the wholehearted support of the 27-nation bloc and wore an outfit in Ukraine’s national colors.
“It is absolutely vital and necessary to support Ukraine with the military equipment it needs to defend itself. And they have proven that they are capable of doing it, if they are well equipped,” she said.
Air raid sirens sounded twice in Kyiv during von der Leyen’s meeting with Zelenskyy, a reminder that Russia has long-range weapons that can reach anywhere in Ukraine, even though the capital has been spared from attacks in recent weeks.
Ukrainian officials said late Wednesday that Russian missiles hit a roadblock near Kryvyi Rih, Zelenskyy’s birthplace and central Ukraine’s largest city. The strikes flooded more than 100 homes.
Russian military bloggers said the attack was aimed at flooding downstream areas where Ukrainian forces have been making inroads as part of their counteroffensive.
The local government leader reported another attack on the dam on Thursday and said emergency crews were working to prevent more water from escaping.
The first attack so close to its roots angered Zelenskyy, who said the strikes had no military value.
“In fact, hitting hundreds of thousands of ordinary civilians is another reason Russia will lose,” he said.
Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv and Joanna Koslowska in London contributed reporting.
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