BUCHA, Ukraine — The verdant beauty of a pine forest with songbirds contrasted with the violent deaths of newly discovered victims of the Russian war in Ukraine, as workers exhumed bodies from another mass grave near the town of Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv.
The hands of several victims were tied behind their backs. The gruesome job of digging up the remains coincided with Ukraine’s police chief’s report that authorities have opened criminal investigations into the killing of more than 12,000 people since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. .
Workers wearing white hazmat suits and masks used shovels to exhume the bodies from the forest floor, marking each section with small yellow numbered signs on the ground. The bodies, covered with cloth and earth, attracted flies.
“Bullets in the knees tell us that people have been tortured,” Kyiv regional police chief Andriy Nebytov said at the scene. “Hands tied behind their backs with duct tape say people were held (hostage) for a long time and (enemy forces) tried to get information from them.”
Since the withdrawal of Russian troops from the area in late March, authorities say they have discovered the bodies of 1,316 people, many of them in mass graves in the forest and elsewhere.
The horrors of Bucha shocked the world after the departure of Russian troops. The mass grave that reporters saw on Monday was just behind a trench dug for a military vehicle. The bodies of seven civilians were recovered. Two of the bodies were found with their hands tied and gunshot wounds to their knees and head, Nebytov said.
National Police Chief Igor Klimenko told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency on Monday that criminal investigations into the deaths of more than 12,000 Ukrainians included finds in mass graves. He added that the killings were also carried out by snipers firing from tanks and armored personnel carriers. Bodies were found lying in the streets and houses, as well as in mass graves.
He did not specify how many of the more than 12,000 were civilians and how many were military.
Full information on the number of bodies in mass graves or elsewhere is not known, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the American Jewish Committee on Sunday. He cited the case of two children who died with their parents in the basement of a building in Mariupol during a Russian bomb attack. Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and whose family was lost in the Holocaust, asked:
“Why is this happening in 2022? This is not the 1940s. How could the mass killings, torture, burning cities and filter camps set up by the Russian military in the occupied territories resembling Nazi concentration camps come true? ? »
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces had driven Russians out of more than 1,000 settlements since the start of the war, and he vowed on Monday that they would liberate all occupied territories, including Crimea, that Russia annexed in 2014.
In his nightly video address, he said the Battle of Donbass “will surely go down in military history as one of the most brutal battles in Europe and for Europe”.
“The price of this battle for us is very high,” he said. “It’s just awful.”
The total war front in the country, he said, is now 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) long.
Amnesty International, in a report released on Monday, accused Russia of indiscriminately using banned cluster munitions in strikes on Kharkiv, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, has come under heavy bombardment since Russia began attacking Ukraine.
“The repeated use of widely banned cluster munitions is shocking and further proof of the utter disregard for civilian life,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International. “The Russian forces responsible for these horrific attacks must be held accountable for their actions, and the victims and their families must receive full reparations.”
The report cites doctors from Kharkiv hospitals who showed researchers distinctive fragments they had taken from the bodies of patients, as well as survivors and witnesses of the attacks.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told The Associated Press that fierce street fighting continued on Monday in Sievierodonetsk, one of two major cities in the Donbass region yet to be fully captured by the Russian troops.
During the day, Haidai updated its estimate of how much of the city the Russians control from 70% to 80%. Ukrainian forces are fighting the enemy “block by block, street by street, house by house with varying degrees of success”, he told the AP.
More than 10,000 people remain in the city. Haidai said efforts to evacuate them were halted because Russian troops destroyed two of the three bridges connecting Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, Lugansk’s second city not yet invaded by Moscow. The remaining bridge is old, decrepit and dangerous, the governor said.
Lysychansk remains under Ukrainian control, but is regularly bombarded by Russian forces. On Sunday, Haidai said, the shelling killed three civilians in the town, including a 6-year-old boy.
Eduard Basurin, an official of the Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk, claimed on Monday that Sievierodonetsk had been blocked and Ukrainian fighters had no choice but to surrender. Haidai called it a “lie”.
“There is no threat that our troops will be surrounded in the Luhansk region,” he said.
Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region said on Monday that Ukrainian forces shelled a market in the city of Donetsk, killing three civilians and injuring 18 others. This is the most violent bombardment by Ukrainian forces since 2015, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
The head of the Russian-backed government in Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, also cited heavy shelling and said on his Telegram channel that more forces – especially Russians – were being called in for help.
The Russian military said on Monday it had destroyed “a large number of weapons and military equipment” that Ukrainian forces had received from the United States and Europe.
Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said “high-precision air-launched missiles” hit the supplies near Udachna railway station in eastern Donetsk region Ukraine. Konashenkov also said that “a temporary deployment point for foreign mercenaries” and a Ukrainian radar station of the Buk-M1 anti-aircraft missile system were destroyed in the nearby Luhansk region.
Two batteries of multiple rocket launcher systems were destroyed in the Luhansk and Kharkiv regions, Konashenkov said.
There was no immediate confirmation of Russia’s claim to Ukraine.
The Dutch government has announced that it will hold a ministerial conference on accountability in Ukraine next month aimed at strengthening and coordinating war crimes investigations.
Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said on Monday that the international community had already taken swift action to investigate alleged atrocities in Ukraine, but that there was an “urgent need to further coordinate existing efforts on this front”.
The July 14 meeting in The Hague will be hosted by the Dutch government, International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan and EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders.
Khan has already launched an investigation and deployed his largest team of prosecutors to Ukraine to collect evidence, including in Bucha, near the capital Kyiv, where bodies littered the streets after Russian forces withdrew early in the war.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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