KYIV, Ukraine – Torture chambers in the basements of police stations and school buildings. Witness abuse, humiliation and murder. Seven foreign medical students from Sri Lanka who were held captive, found alive and freed. A forest full of graves.
Across the vast tract of thousands of square miles of land recently reclaimed by Ukrainian forces in the northeastern region of Kharkov, allegations of Russian atrocities by Ukrainian officials piled up on Saturday as Ukraine stepped up calls for a global response. Many of the claims have not yet been independently verified.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said the process of excavating 440 graves in the recaptured city of Izium, the largest mass grave site yet discovered, is continuing, and he warned it was too early to say exactly how many people were buried there or how she went. dead. But local authorities said the majority of those taken off the ground had encountered violent deaths.
“There is already clear evidence of torture and degrading treatment of people,” said Mr. Zelensky Friday in his late night speech. “The world has to respond to all of this.”
The United Nations said it sent a team to assist with the investigation, while the Biden administration warned the Kremlin against using unconventional weapons to counter the successful counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces.
In an interview with the TBEN News program “60 Minutes,” which airs Sunday, President Biden said the United States’ response to any use of such weapons would be “consequence,” although he did not provide details.
Across a sprawling frontline that has been reformed after a Ukrainian offensive drove the Russians out of the northeast — but one that still stretches more than 1,000 miles — Ukraine continued to try to exploit the Russian disarray but claimed no significant forward movement. Russia’s offensive operations appeared to be confined to a small part of the Donetsk region around the city of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian soldiers and commanders believe Bakhmut is in an increasingly weak position as Russian forces from the east and southeast attempt to cut off supplies to the country.
Soldiers on the front lines around the city have claimed that Russian forces in the area are mostly made up of troops from the Wagner Group, a private military company with ties to the Kremlin. Wagner troops have fought in places such as Syria and Libya — countries with histories of Russian intervention — and Ukrainian soldiers say they are putting Russian prisoners on the front lines.
That Ukrainian troops were being attacked by prisoners — and not just ordinary Russian ranks — suggested one reason that there seemed to be an unending supply of soldiers around Bakhmut attacking them, Ukrainian forces said.
On Tuesday, a video posted online and analyzed by The New York Times shows the Wagner Group promising convicts they will be released in exchange for a six-month combat tour in Ukraine. It is not clear when the video was recorded.
Even as Ukraine’s security forces worked to secure towns and villages littered with mines left behind by Russian forces as they chaotically and hastily retreated, teams of Ukrainian investigators fanned out to take witness statements of atrocities, gather evidence and start setting up war crimes. .
Ukrainian officials said they had found at least 10 torture chambers, two in the town of Balakliia, including one in a police station.
“During the inspection of the building, we discovered wires leading to hidden video cameras in the rooms where the hostages were held,” said Serhii Bolvinov, the head of the police investigation department of the Kharkiv region. “People, including women, had to sleep on the floor and were tortured with electric current during interrogations.”
He said police had confirmed the death of at least one person as a result of torture.
As with many of the emerging claims, it was not possible to verify some reports immediately. But evidence of many of the crimes has already been made public and those who survived are now being questioned as potential witnesses.
Among them are seven citizens of the Republic of Sri Lanka, students of the Kupyansk Medical College. In March, they had been captured by Russian soldiers and then kept in a cellar, according to Mr Zelensky, who spoke about their case in his overnight address to the nation.
With Russia suffering military setbacks in recent weeks and the Kremlin becoming more diplomatically isolated, the Biden administration warned Putin against the use of unconventional weapons, marking the second time Washington issued such a warning. Last March, Mr Biden said that “we would respond” if Mr Putin — then frustrated by setbacks in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, and the general lack of progress in the war — used such weapons.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, Mr. Biden said that Russia’s use of unconventional or nuclear weapons to try to turn the tide of the war in Moscow’s favor “would change the face of war like nothing since the Second World War.” World War I.”
This time, the warning came as the Russian troops were reeling from their retreat from the battlefield and as Mr. Putin at home gets more and more questions about how he conducted the war.
The leaders of Putin’s two most important strategic partners, India and China, have both expressed concern over the war over the past week, breaking through the Kremlin’s message that Russia was far from isolated as a result of the war.
Some Western officials have expressed concern that the more Mr Putin feels cornered, the more likely he is to use an unconventional weapon, such as a tactical or low-efficiency nuclear weapon, which can be fired at relatively close ranges. fired, as opposed to “strategic” nuclear weapons that can be launched over much greater distances.
In April, the CIA director warned how Mr Putin might turn to such weapons in “desperation”.
Its director, William J. Burns, said it was a possibility that left the United States “very concerned,” although he said Washington had seen no “practical evidence” of the type of military deployment at that stage of the war. or movement of weapons to suggest that such a move was imminent.
Despite the setbacks and the loss of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, Mr Putin shows no signs of changing course. On Friday, he threatened to escalate his troops’ attacks.
At a press conference in Uzbekistan at the end of a regional meeting, Mr Putin alleged that Ukraine was trying to carry out “terrorist acts” in Russia and “damage our civilian infrastructure”.
Ukraine has occasionally hit fuel and military targets in Russia’s border region, but has denied targeting civilian infrastructure, and Mr Putin offered no evidence to substantiate his claim.
Mr Zelensky has sought to seize his country’s military advance to bolster the resolve of Western allies, using them as proof that Ukraine is not only capable of mounting an effective defense but also Drive Russian troops out of the country and win the war.
In the northern region of Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces continued to consolidate their gains after their lightning-fast counteroffensive against Russian forces, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman said.
“In the north, we find that the Ukrainians are consolidating their gains after taking back significant territory, and that the Russians are trying to strengthen their defenses after being pushed back,” said spokesman Brig. General Patrick S. Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday.
“In the south, the Ukrainians continue to make what we consider to be a deliberate, calculated forward move as the Russians continue to try to hold that line,” he said.
Ukrainian and Russian forces dealt long-range blows in southern Ukraine on Friday, bombing each other’s positions and causing extensive damage.
The top two floors of the city administration in Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine occupied by the Russians, were turned to rubble by a Ukrainian rocket attack. At least three people have died, according to the Russian news agency TASS. The Ukrainians took credit for the attack, saying it was an attempt to behead the leadership of the occupied territory.
“All the employees of the occupied Kherson region were gathered there,” said Serhiy Khlan, a regional lawmaker. “As they all gathered, a ‘greeting’ came from the armed forces of Ukraine.”
Mr Khlan warned civilians to stay away from government buildings and military targets in Kherson in case more strikes were to take place.
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