Residents of the Ukrainian city of Izyum searched for their dead relatives at a cemetery in a nearby wooded area, as emergency workers continued to exhume what they said were hundreds of bodies after Russian forces were driven out of the area.
The cause of death for those at the cemetery, discovered last week, has yet to be determined, but residents say some of them were killed in an airstrike. Ukrainian officials said at least one body was handcuffed and had rope marks on its neck.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said investigators had found new evidence of torture buried in Izium, one of more than 20 cities recaptured by Ukrainian forces northeast of Kharkiv after a lightning advance earlier this month.
“More than a dozen torture chambers have already been found in liberated areas of the Kharkiv region in several cities,” Zelensky added in a video speech on Saturday night.
“Torture was a widespread practice in the occupied territories. That’s what the Nazis did. That’s what (the Russians) do,” he added.
“They will be held accountable in the same way, whether on the battlefield or in court,” he added.
Volodymyr Kolesnik drew up a carefully written list of names and numbers as he stood among numbered graves and searched for relatives he said were killed in an airstrike on an apartment block shortly before Izium fell to Russian forces in April.
He stopped in front of a cross bearing the number 199. After reviewing the list provided by the local funeral home and funeral home that dug the graves, he carefully hung up a small plaque bearing the name of a relative, Yuri Yakovenko.
According to him, the numbers 164 and 174 belonged to his cousin’s wife and mother.
The bodies were buried in bags, no coffins, nothing. At first they wouldn’t let me come here. (The Russians) said the place was mined and asked me to wait. There were many in the forest, that’s why. It was scary coming here,” Kolesnik told Reuters.
Moscow does not comment on the discovery of graves. He has repeatedly denied committing war atrocities or targeting civilians.
The head of Russia’s allied administration, who left the region this month, accused Ukrainians of instigating the atrocity in the city of Izium. “I haven’t heard anything about the funeral,” Vitaly Ganchev told Rossiya-24 state television.
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not respond to the accusations, but played down Ukraine’s rapid counterattack and described the Russian invasion as a necessary step to avert what he said was a Western plan to divide Russia.
“The Kyiv authorities have announced that they have launched and are carrying out a counter-offensive operation… Well, we will see how it develops and how it ends,” Putin said with a smile after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand. Friday. , Uzbekistan.
Putin has warned that Moscow will respond more forcefully if its forces come under more pressure, which he fears could eventually use unconventional means such as small nuclear weapons or chemical weapons.
In an interview (60 Minutes) excerpted by CBS on Saturday, US President Joe Biden was asked what he would say to Putin if he considered using such a weapon, and he replied: “No. , no, no, this is the face of war as it has not been seen since the Second World War”.
The British military said on Sunday that Russia was believed to have expanded the range of attack sites in Ukraine, including civilian infrastructure targets, in an attempt to weaken the morale of the Ukrainian people and government.
Ukraine’s regional governors said on Sunday that five civilians were killed in Russian attacks in the Donetsk region on Saturday, and that Russian attacks in the Nikopol region damaged several private skyscrapers, gas pipelines and power lines.
Some military analysts have also warned that Moscow could cause a nuclear accident at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, currently under Russian control.
Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of bombing the station’s perimeter, damaging buildings and cutting power lines that keep it cool and safe.
On Saturday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that one of the plant’s four main transmission lines had been repaired and had begun refueling from the Ukrainian grid.
Ukraine has also launched a major counter-offensive to recapture territory in the south, where it hopes to encircle thousands of isolated Russian troops on the west bank of the Dnieper River and recapture Kherson, the only major Ukrainian city Russia has captured. without much damage since the beginning of the war.
The TASS news agency reported that Russian security forces shot dead and “neutralized” members of an armed criminal group in central Kherson on Saturday night.
The RIA news agency, citing a security source, said the gang was a “subversive and intelligence group”, without elaborating.