Ukrainian authorities have found a mass grave in a forest near the northeastern city of Izyum, days after recapturing it from occupying Russian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed the discovery of the burial site – which contains about 440 bodies – in his address to the country Thursday night.
A local police official said earlier that some of the dead were killed in shelling or air strikes.
I have already started the necessary procedures there. “More information – clear, verifiable information – should be available tomorrow,” said Zelensky, who visited Iseum on Wednesday.
Journalists who traveled to the site described hundreds of graves marked with simple wooden crosses among the trees. The Associated Press reported that a larger tomb bears a sign indicating that it contains the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.
Investigators were using metal detectors to search for any hidden explosives.
I can say that it is one of the largest burial sites in a big town in Muharraq [areas] “… 440 bodies were buried in one place,” Serhiy Polvinov, the chief police investigator in the Kharkiv region, told Britain’s Sky News. “Some died from artillery fire…some died from air strikes.”
The Ukrainian allegations could not be immediately verified and there was no immediate response from Russia.
In his speech, Zelensky invoked the killings in Bucha, on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, where Ukrainians found the bodies of civilians lying in the streets in early April after the withdrawal of Russian soldiers. He also pointed to the southern port city of Mariupol, where Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians may have died in the Russian offensive and prolonged siege.
“Bucha, Mariupol, now, alas, Izyum. … Russia is leaving death everywhere. And it must be held accountable for this. The world must hold Russia on its shoulders with real responsibility for this war.”
Russia has denied targeting civilians or committing war crimes.
More American aid
Ukraine liberated Isium after two weeks of rapid gains in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Ukrainian officials say since the beginning of the month they have reclaimed about 9,000 square kilometers (3,400 square miles) of their country’s territory, the size of the island of Cyprus.
On Thursday, the United States moved to support the counteroffensive with a new package of military aid worth up to $600 million.
The White House said the package includes equipment and services as well as training, but it did not say what type of weapons it would provide. The United States has provided more than $15 billion in military aid to Kyiv since Russia began its invasion on February 24.
Ukraine hopes to move on before the weather turns significantly cooler, but Russia has responded with a barrage of airstrikes, including firing eight cruise missiles at a dam near Kryvyi Ri, Zelensky’s hometown in central Ukraine. Nearly 100 homes were submerged as a result of the attack and work is currently under way to repair the damage.
In the newly liberated Kharkiv region, Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Enin said that Ukrainian forces also discovered multiple “torture chambers” where Ukrainian and foreign citizens were held “in completely inhuman conditions”.
In an interview with Radio N in Ukraine, Enin said: “We have already come across the process of exhumation of individuals, not only with traces of violent death, but also from torture – cutting off ears, etc. This is just the beginning.”
He said that among those detained at one location were students from an unspecified Asian country who were captured at a Russian checkpoint while trying to leave for Ukraine-controlled territory.
Inin did not specify where the group was held, although he did mention the small towns of Balaklya and Volshansk as the sites where the torture chambers were found. His account cannot be independently verified.
All traces of these war crimes are carefully documented by us. And we know from Bucha’s experience that the worst crimes can only be revealed with the passage of time,” Enin said,