Residents of the Ukrainian city of Izium searched for dead relatives in a nearby wooded grave, while aid workers continued to exhume hundreds of bodies they say had been found after Russian troops were driven from the region.
The causes of death for those on the grave, discovered last week, have not yet been determined, although residents say some were killed in an airstrike. Ukrainian authorities have said at least one of the bodies had tied hands and rope marks on the neck.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said investigators have found new evidence of torture against the people buried in Izium, one of dozens of towns recaptured in northeast Kharkov earlier this month after a lightning strike.
“More than 10 torture chambers have already been found in the liberated areas of the Kharkiv region, in several towns and villages,” Zelenskiy said in a video address late Saturday.
“Torture was a widespread practice in the occupied territories. That’s what the Nazis did – this is what (the Russians) do,” he added. “They will respond in the same way — both on the battlefield and in courtrooms.”
Carrying a neatly written list of names and numbers, Volodymyr Kolesnyk searched the graves for relatives he believed had been killed in an air raid on an apartment building shortly before Izium fell to Russian forces in April.
Kolesnyk said he knew his relatives had been taken to the cemetery and marked with numbers in some of the graves.
He stopped briefly in front of a cross marked 199, and after checking the list given to him by a local funeral company that had dug the graves, he carefully put up a small sign with the name of Yurii Yakovenko, his cousin.
Cross number 164, he said, was his cousin’s wife. And 174, the mother of his cousin, the aunt of Kolesnyk.
“They buried the bodies in bags, without coffins, without anything. I was not allowed here at first. (The Russians) said it was mined and asked to wait. And there were many in the forest, so it was scary to be here to come,” Kolesnyk told Reuters.
Moscow denies atrocities
Moscow has not commented on the discovery of the graves. It denies regularly committing atrocities in war or targeting civilians.
The head of the pro-Russian government that left the area earlier this month accused Ukrainians of organizing the atrocities in the city of Izium. “I haven’t heard anything about funerals,” Vitaly Ganchev told state television Rossiya-24.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not responded to the allegations, but he brushed off Ukraine’s swift counter-offensive, calling the Russian invasion a necessary step to prevent what he said was a Western plot to tear Russia apart.
“Kiev authorities have announced that they have launched and are carrying out an active counter-offensive,” Putin said on Friday after a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in the Uzbek city of Samarkand. “Well, let’s see how it develops, how it ends,” he said with a grin.
Putin has warned that Moscow would react more vigorously if its forces were put under further pressure, expressing concern that at some point he could use unconventional means, such as small nuclear or chemical weapons.
US President Joe Biden replied to what he would say to Putin if he considered using such weapons: “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. It would change the face of war differently than it has since World War II.” He made the comment in a “60 Minutes” interview, a clip of which was released Saturday by CBS.
Some military analysts have warned that Russia could also stage a nuclear incident at the Russian-operated Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling around the factory that has damaged buildings and disrupted power lines needed to keep it cool and safe.
One of the plant’s four main power lines has been repaired and is supplying the plant with electricity from Ukraine’s power grid again, the United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Saturday.
Ukraine has also launched a major offensive to retake territory in the south, where it hopes to capture thousands of Russian troops cut off from supplies on the western bank of the Dnipro River, and Kherson, the only major Ukrainian city to attack Russia. has since conquered intact, to recapture. the beginning of the war.
Russian security forces fired at an armed gang of criminals in central Kherson late Saturday and “neutralized” them, Tass news agency reported.
The RIA news agency quoted a security source as saying the gang involved was a “sabotage and reconnaissance group” but gave no details.
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