Officials uncover mass grave in Ukraine
A mass burial site with 400 bodies, mainly of civilians, has been uncovered by Ukrainian officials in a northeastern city recaptured from Russian forces.
The site in the former Russian front-line stronghold of Izium would be the biggest mass burial found in Europe since the aftermath of the 1990s Balkan wars.
Ukrainian forces retook Izium after thousands of Russian troops fled the area, abandoning weapons and ammunition.
Ukrainian police chief Ihor Klymenko told a news conference all of the bodies recovered so far at the site appeared to be of civilians, although there was information that some soldiers might have been buried there too.
Ukraine calls the mass burial site proof of war crimes carried out by Russians in the territory they had occupied for months.
“Russia is leaving death behind it everywhere and must be held responsible.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address overnight.
“For months a rampant terror, violence, torture and mass murders were in the occupied territories,” Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted in English, above photos of a forest scattered with wooden crosses in fresh muddy ground.
A huge pit was taped off with red-and-white crime-scene tape.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office said on Friday that it plans to send monitors to a Ukrainian city recaptured from Russian forces where authorities say they have found a mass grave containing 440 bodies.
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“They (monitors) are aiming to go there to try to establish a bit more about what may have happened,” Liz Throssell told a Geneva press briefing, without giving a timeframe.
She said she could not confirm if the bodies were contained in one mass grave or in a series of individual graves.
After a week of rapid gains in the northeast, Ukrainian officials have sought to dampen expectations that they could continue to advance at that pace.
They say Russian troops that fled the Kharkiv region are now digging in and planning to defend territory in neighboring Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
“It is of course extremely encouraging to see that Ukrainian armed forces have been able to take back territory and also strike behind Russian lines,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
“At the same time, we need to understand that this is not the beginning of the end of the war. We need to be prepared for the long haul.” He added.