Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russians are “leaving death behind” after more than 440 bodies were discovered in northeastern city.
Ukrainian authorities have found a mass grave in forests near the northeastern city of Izyum days after retaking it from Russian occupying forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi announced the discovery of the burial site containing around 440 bodies in his address to the country on Thursday evening.
A regional police officer earlier said some of those killed died in shelling or airstrikes.
“The necessary procedures have already started there. More information – clear, verifiable information – should be available tomorrow,” said Zelenskyy, who visited Izyum on Wednesday.
Journalists who have traveled to the site have described hundreds of graves marked with simple wooden crosses among the trees. According to the Associated Press news agency, a larger grave bore a marking saying it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.
Investigators used metal detectors to search for hidden explosives.
“I can say that it is one of the largest burial grounds in a liberated city [areas] … 440 bodies were buried in one place,” Serhiy Bolvinov, the chief police investigator for the Kharkiv region, told Britain’s Sky News. “Some died from artillery fire…some died from air raids.”
It was not possible to immediately verify the Ukrainian claims and there was no immediate response from Russia.
In his speech, Zelenskyy referred to the killings in Bucha on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv, where Ukrainians found the bodies of civilians on the streets in early April after Russian soldiers withdrew. He also pointed to the southern port city of Mariupol, where Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians likely died in the Russian attack and the ongoing siege.
“Bucha, Mariupol, now unfortunately Izyum. … Russia leaves death everywhere. And she must be held accountable for it. The world really needs to hold Russia accountable for this war,” he said.
Russia has denied attacking civilians or committing war crimes.
Ukraine liberated Izyum after two weeks of rapid victories in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Ukrainian officials say they have reclaimed about 9,000 square kilometers (3,400 sq mi) of their country’s territory since the beginning of the month, which is the size of the island of Cyprus.
On Thursday, the United States began supporting the counteroffensive with a new military aid package worth up to $600 million.
The White House said the package would include equipment and services, as well as training, but didn’t elaborate on the type of weapons it was providing. Since the Russian invasion began on February 24, the US has provided more than $15 billion in military aid to Kyiv.
Ukraine hopes to advance further before the weather turns significantly colder, but Russia has responded with a spate of airstrikes, including firing eight cruise missiles at a causeway near Kryvyi Rih, Zelenskyy’s hometown in central Ukraine. About 100 homes were flooded as a result of the attack and work is underway to repair the damage.
In the newly liberated Kharkiv region, Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Enin said Ukrainian forces have also uncovered several “torture chambers” where both Ukrainian citizens and foreigners were being held “in completely inhumane conditions.”
“We have already encountered the exhumation of individual corpses, not only with traces of violent death, but also of torture – cut off ears, etc. This is just the beginning,” Enin said in an interview with Ukrainian Radio NV.
He said one of the locations was holding students from an unspecified Asian country who were detained at a Russian checkpoint as they attempted to exit Ukraine-controlled territory.
Enin did not specify where the group was being held, although he cited the small towns of Balakliia and Volchansk as two places where torture chambers were found. His account could not be independently verified.
“All these traces of war crimes are now carefully documented by us. And we know from Bucha’s experience that the worst crimes can only be uncovered over time,” Enin said.