Bucha, Ukraine (AFP) – Moscow faced global outrage and accusations of war crimes on Monday after Russia’s withdrawal from Kyiv’s suburbs exposed streets, buildings and squares strewn with corpses. In what appeared to be civilians, many of them were apparently killed at close range.
The horrific images of charred or charred bodies left in the open or hastily buried have led to calls for tougher sanctions against the Kremlin, especially cutting fuel imports from Russia. Germany and France responded by expelling dozens of Russian diplomats, citing them as spies, and US President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin should be tried for war crimes.
“This guy is brutal, and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous,” Biden said, referring to the town northwest of the capital that was the scene of some atrocities.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has left Kyiv on his first reported trip since the war began nearly six weeks ago to see for himself what he called “genocide” and “war crimes” in Bucha.
In his nightly video address, Zelensky pledged that Ukraine would work with the European Union and the International Criminal Court to identify Russian fighters implicated in any atrocities.
“The time will come when every Russian will learn the whole truth about who killed their compatriots and who gave orders and turned a blind eye to the murders,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied the scenes outside Kyiv, describing them as “a provocation directed against Russia.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the photos contained “signs of video fraud and various fakes”.
Similarly, Russia dismissed previous allegations of atrocities as fabrications on the part of Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials said at least 410 civilian bodies have been found in towns around Kyiv that were seized from Russian forces in recent days.
The Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office described one of the rooms found in Bucha as a “torture room”. In a statement, it added that it found the bodies of five men handcuffed in the basement of a children’s clinic, where civilians were tortured and killed.
Associated Press journalists saw dozens of bodies in Bucha, including at least 13 in and around a building that locals said Russian forces were using as a base. Three more bodies were found in a stairwell, and a group of six were cremated together.
Many of the victims seen by the AP appeared to have been shot at close range. Some were hit in the head. At least two of them had their hands tied. Near one of the victims is a bag of spilled groceries.
Among the dead, the news agency reporters witnessed were bodies wrapped in black plastic piled on one end of a mass grave in the courtyard of the Bucha Church. Many of these victims were killed in cars or killed in explosions while trying to flee the city. Father Andrei Galvin said, with the mortuary full and the cemetery inaccessible, the churchyard was the only place to keep the dead.
Tanya Nidashkevska said she buried her husband in a garden outside their apartment building after he was detained by Russian forces. His body was one of those bruised in a stairwell.
“Please, I beg you, do something!” She said. “I speak, Ukrainian woman, Ukrainian woman, mother of two children and one grandson. To all wives and mothers, make peace on earth so that no one grieves again.”
Volodymyr Belhutsky, a Bucha resident, said his neighbor, Pavlo Vlasenko, was taken away by Russian soldiers because the military-style pants he was wearing and the uniform that Vlasenko said belonged to his son, looked suspicious. His neighbor said that when Vlasenko’s body was later found, it had traces of burns from the flamethrower.
“I came close and saw that his body was on fire,” Belhotsky said. “They didn’t just shoot him.”
Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzia, insisted Monday at a press conference that during the time Bucha was under Russian control, “no local person suffered from any violent act.”
However, high-resolution satellite imagery by commercial provider Maxar Technologies showed that many of the bodies had been lying in the open for weeks, during the time Russian forces were in Bucha. The New York Times first reported on satellite images showing the dead.
In other developments, more than 1,500 civilians were evacuated on Monday from the besieged and devastated port city of Mariupol in the south, using the decreasing number of special vehicles available to exit, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshuk said.
But in the midst of the fighting, a convoy of Red Cross escorted buses that had been thwarted for days in a row trying to deliver supplies and evacuate residents was again unable to enter the city, Vereshock said.
European leaders and the United Nations human rights commissioner joined the Ukrainians in condemning the bloodshed that was exposed after the withdrawal of Russian forces from the area around Kiev.
At the same time, many warned that the full extent of the atrocities had yet to emerge.
“I can tell you without exaggeration but with great sadness that the situation in Mariupol is much worse compared to what we saw in Bucha and other cities, towns and villages near Kyiv,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Zelensky was scheduled to speak at a previously scheduled meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday. Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, Barbara Woodward, said the session was sure to focus on the killing of large numbers of civilians in Ukraine.
Western and Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia of war crimes before, and the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has already opened an investigation. But recent reports have stepped up the condemnation.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Barbock said the photos from Bush revealed “the unbelievable brutality of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda.” French President Emmanuel Macron said there was “clear evidence of war crimes” in Boucha calling for new punitive measures.
I support a new round of sanctions, especially on coal and gasoline. He said on France Inter radio.
Although united in anger, the European allies seemed divided over how to respond. While Poland urged Europe to quickly move away from Russian energy, Germany said it would commit to a phased approach to phasing out coal and oil imports over the next few months.
The United States and its allies have sought to punish Russia for the invasion with sweeping sanctions but fear further damage to the global economy, which is still recovering from the pandemic. Europe is in a special predicament, because it gets 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia.
Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, described Putin’s Russia as a “totalitarian fascist state” and called for strong measures that would “ultimately break Putin’s war machine.” “Are you negotiating with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot?” Moraveki asked Macron.
Russia withdrew many of its forces from the metropolitan area in recent days after thwarting its attempt to quickly seize Kyiv.
Instead, it sent troops and mercenaries into the east of the country in a massive attempt to take Donbass, the largely Russian-speaking industrial region that includes Mariupol, which saw some of the fiercest battles and worst suffering of the war.
About two-thirds of Russian forces around Kyiv have left and are either in Belarus or on their way there, and may be getting more supplies and reinforcements, said a senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence assessment.
The official said that Russian forces appeared to be shifting artillery and troop positions in an attempt to capture the city of Izyum, which is located on a major road to Donbass.
The region’s governor, Vitaly Kim, said in a video message on social media that, on Monday, 11 people were killed by a Russian bombing in the southern city of Mykolaiv. Kim said that nine of the victims died at a public transport station in the city center.
Zelensky called for more weapons as Russia prepares for a new offensive.
“If we really had what we needed – all these planes, tanks, artillery, anti-missile weapons, ships – we could have saved thousands of people,” he said.
Qena reported from Mutizin, Ukraine. Juras Karamano in Lviv, Ukraine, and Lolita contributed roles from Washington and Associated Press journalists around the world.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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