Ukraine war – latest: Russia facing calls for war crimes tribunal over mass graves

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Russia is facing calls for an international war crimes tribunal after the discovery of mass graves in Ukraine.

It comes as the Ministry of Defence questioned whether Russian frontline forces have “sufficient reserves or adequate morale” to withstand another concerted assault in the east of the country.

Any substantial loss of territory here would “unambiguously undermine” Vladimir Putin’s strategy for the conflict, the experts say.

Mr Putin warned on Friday that Ukraine risks provoking “more serious” action from Moscow with its sweeping counteroffensive, claiming that “we so far have responded with restraint”.

He vowed to press on with his “special military operation” during his address to reporters after attending a meeting of Asian world leaders, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, in Uzbekistan.

He said the “liberation” of Ukraine‘s entire eastern Donbas region remained Russia’s main military goal and that he has no intention of giving up the fight.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi offered a public rebuke to Mr Putin for the first time and the Russian leader admitted there were also concerns about the situation in Beijing.

Key Points

  • Ground report: Bodies were ‘put in sacks and thrown onto trucks’ in Izyum

  • India offers rare direct rebuke to Putin

  • Putin warns of Ukraine escalation amid widening diplomatic isolation

EU presidency calls for war crimes tribunal over mass graves

20:30 , Sam Rkaina

Current holders of the European Union’s rotating presidency the Czech Republic has called for a tribunal into Russia’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Czech Republic Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Lipavský tweeted: “Russia left behind mass graves of hundreds of shot and tortured people in the Izyum area.

“In the 21st century, such attacks against the civilian population are unthinkable and abhorrent. We must not overlook it. We stand for the punishment of all war criminals.

“I call for the speedy establishment of a special international tribunal that will prosecute the crime of aggression.”

A view of unidentified graves of civilians and Ukrainian soldiers (TBEN)

Four people reportedly killed in Ukrainian shelling

20:00 , Jane Dalton

A Ukrainian shelling attack reportedly killed four people in downtown Donetsk.

According to the city’s mayor Alexey Kulemzin, fragments of munitions for Caesar howitzers were found.

Shelling in Donetsk, controlled by Russian-backed separatists (AP)

Shelling in Donetsk, controlled by Russian-backed separatists (TBEN)

More bodies exhumed from mass graves

19:30 , Jane Dalton

Ukrainian authorities exhumed more of the dead on Saturday from a burial site by a cemetery in Izium, where officials say hundreds are buried in territory recaptured from Russian forces.

There was no immediate public comment from Russia, which denies deliberately attacking civilians.

Up to 30 emergency service officers carefully dug up bodies at the wooded burial site using shovels.

Police experts and investigators documented the findings on camera and inspected the bodies, which are of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.

Russian shelling kills girl, 11

19:15 , Jane Dalton

Russian shelling in the city of Chuhuiv in the Kharkiv region has killed an 11-year-old girl, according to the regional governor.

Oleh Syniehubov said a missile attack started a fire in an industrial area.

Remnants suggested the Russians fired S-300 surface-to-air missiles at the city, he said.

The S-300 is designed for striking missiles or aircraft in the sky, not targets on the ground. Analysts say Russia’s use of the missiles suggest they may be running out of some precision munitions.

Memorial service for ballet dancer-turned-soldier

18:40 , Jane Dalton

A leading Ukrainian ballet dancer who died this week fighting on the front line has been honoured with a memorial service in the National Opera of Ukraine.

The National Opera described Oleksandr Shapoval as a “courageous romantic” and brave warrior who died under Russian mortar shelling in eastern Ukraine on Monday.

Mourners, including soldiers from Shapoval’s unit, honour guards and members of the artistic community of Kyiv, crowded the lobby of the opera house, laying flowers on his coffin before it was wrapped in a Ukrainian flag.

Shapoval, 47, retired from a long dancing career at the National Opera last year and began teaching in Kyiv before joining a territorial guard to defend the capital. He later volunteered to join the army and fought in eastern Ukraine‘s Donetsk region.

“To me he was a friend, brother-in-arms. He was a very decent person. My soul is empty. To me he will for ever be alive,” said Roman Turshyiev, who fought alongside Shapoval.

 (REUTERS)

(REUTERS)

 (REUTERS)

(REUTERS)

Power line to Russian-held nuclear plant repaired

18:05 , Jane Dalton

One of the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant’s four main power lines has been repaired and is once again supplying the plant with electricity from the Ukrainian grid two weeks after it went down, the UN nuclear watchdog says.

Even though the six reactors at Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, have been shut down, the fuel in them still needs cooling to avoid a potentially catastrophic meltdown. That means the plant needs electricity to pump water through the core of the reactors.

The power supply at Zaporizhzhia has been a source of major concern after the last main line went down and then three back-up lines that can connect it to a nearby coal-fired power plant were also disconnected.

That prompted the plant to go into so-called “island mode” where its last operating reactor provided it with power, though that mode is not sustainable. A back-up power line was reconnected a week ago, enabling that reactor to shut down, too.

“With the main line’s reconnection yesterday afternoon, the three back-up power lines are again being held in reserve,” the International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog said.

The three other main external power lines that were lost earlier during the conflict remain down.

In pictures: Ceremony for Russian woman who fought with Ukraine

17:30 , Jane Dalton

A Ukrainian soldier holds a photo of Olga Simonova (AP)

A Ukrainian soldier holds a photo of Olga Simonova (TBEN)

Friends and comrades-in-arms gather to bid farewell to Olga Simonova (AP)

Friends and comrades-in-arms gather to bid farewell to Olga Simonova (TBEN)

Ukrainians honour Russian woman who fought beside them

17:00 , Jane Dalton

An honour guard fired a three-gun salute as friends and comrades-in-arms gathered in Kyiv to bid farewell to a Russian woman killed while fighting on Ukraine’s side in the war.

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Olga Simonova, 34, was remembered for her courage and kindness at a funeral in the Ukrainian capital on Friday.

Ms Simonova’s coffin was draped in the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag, with a cuddly toy lion on top. Her nom de guerre was Simba, like the main character in the Disney cartoon The Lion King.

Ms Simonova served in a trench in the Donbas region, alongside Ukrainian soldiers, first as a volunteer fighter, then a paramedic and ultimately as an enlisted member of the armed forces.

“I had this internal feeling that I could handle it and that what I was doing was right and necessary, because I can’t turn a blind eye to the situation,” she told the The The Bharat Express News. “I just had to buy a one-way ticket. I bought it and I left.”

She said she never hid her Russian origin from her colleagues and gained their trust by showing her commitment to Ukraine on the battlefield.

In 2017 she received Ukrainian citizenship.

She became a sergeant and was given command of both infantry and artillery units.

Friends and colleagues said Ms Simonova, who was unmarried and had no children, had recently redeployed from the east to the southern Kherson region, where Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive against Russian forces.

They said she died four days ago, after her vehicle hit a landmine.

“She was respected not only as a commander, but as a person,” said Dmytro Karabinovskyi, her former commander and friend.

Editorial: Justice must be served after mass graves found

16:15 , Jane Dalton

In case you missed it:

President Zelensky says there is evidence of genocide against Ukrainians. International authorities will determine what exactly took place in this merciless war of aggression, and who should be charged – including Vladimir Putin.

Editorial: Justice must be served for the merciless war of aggression in Ukraine

Pressure on Russian forces mounts

15:30 , Jane Dalton

Western defence officials and analysts said they believed Russian forces were setting up a new defensive line, but Ukrainian forces continue to cross the key Oskil River in the Kharkiv region.

They are trying to press on in a counteroffensive targeting Russian-occupied territory, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War:

Pressure on Russian forces mounts after Ukraine’s advances

One person dead, two injured in Russia – report

14:45 , Jane Dalton

One person was killed and two others were injured near the Russian city of Belgorod, not far from the border with Ukraine, Moscow’s Tass news agency cited local authorities as saying.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.

Satellite images show tanks near mass graves month before bodies found

14:01 , Jane Dalton

Satellite images appear to show tanks near the site of a mass grave in the Ukrainian city of Izyum months before it was discovered.

One satellite image shows two tanks along the edge of the forest north of the cemetery, on 29 August, while artillery guns can be seen at the entrance to the cemetery on 8 April. Chiara Giordano reports:

Satellite images show tanks near Izyum mass graves month before bodies found

Ballet dancer who volunteered to fight killed in Donetsk

13:15 , Jane Dalton

Servicemen pay their last respects to volunteer soldier Oleksandr Shapoval, a ballet dancer soloist of the National Opera, killed in a battle in Donetsk (AP)

Servicemen pay their last respects to volunteer soldier Oleksandr Shapoval, a ballet dancer soloist of the National Opera, killed in a battle in Donetsk (TBEN)

Russia carries out strikes in four Ukrainian areas

12:22 , Jane Dalton

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces have launched strikes on Ukrainian positions in several parts of Ukraine, and accused Kyiv of carrying out shelling near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Russian forces conducted their strikes in the Kherson, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, according to the ministry.

It said Ukrainian forces had carried out an unsuccessful offensive near Pravdyne in Kherson.

The radiation situation at Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, remains normal, according to the ministry. It said two incidents of Ukrainian shelling were recorded near the plant on Saturday.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign ministry denied that its forces had carried out shelling there.

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution on Thursday demanding that Russia end its occupation of the plant.

Russia setting up new defensive line, says MoD

11:51 , Jane Dalton

Defence officials and analysts say they believe Russian forces are setting up a new defensive line in Ukraine’s northeast after Kyiv’s troops broke through the previous one.

The Ministry of Defence said the line is probably between the Oskil River and Svatove, some 90 miles southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

A Ukrainian counteroffensive punched a hole through the previous front line in the war and recaptured large swaths of land in the northeastern Kharkiv region that borders Russia.

The MoD said Moscow probably sees maintaining control of the zone as important because “it is transited by one of the few main resupply routes Russia still controls from the Belgorod region of Russia”.

It said “a stubborn defence of this area” was likely, but it remained unclear whether the Russians would be able to withstand another concerted Ukrainian assault.

Desperate Ukrainians trawl through dead looking for lost loved ones

10:45 , Bel Trew

All day the Ukrainian women search through photos of corpses posted by Russian soldiers showing off their kills, in the desperate hunt for their missing loved ones.

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In the crude images of frozen grey faces, blood smeared torsos and the scraps of remains, they look for a flick of something recognisable: a scar or a ring.

“Twenty hours a day I go through these Telegram channels looking for him,” says Maria, her face gripped by grief.

“We are a community of women who are looking for our loved ones. All of us have to trawl through the photos of the dead. We have to see if they are there.”

‘We may never find them’: Desperate Ukranains hunt for their loved ones

How Russian oil is still reaching US, Europe, and other countries sanctioning Moscow

10:15 , Shweta Sharma

Russian energy is continuing to flow into the US, member nations of the European Union, and other countries that have imposed the toughest sanctions on Moscow, potentially blunting the sting of sanctions designed to cripple the Kremlin’s ability to finance the war in Ukraine.

Major Indian refiners on the west coast – which is the leading destination for Russian crude – are selling on huge quantities of refined products to the US and Europe, two leading oil analytics firms told TBEN.

Read my report on how Russian oil is still making its way into the west.

How Russian oil is still reaching US, Europe, and other countries sanctioning Moscow

‘Now is not an era of war’: India’s Modi berates Putin over Ukraine conflict

09:45 , Shweta Sharma

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has publicly scolded Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking at a regional security bloc summit in Uzbekistan, he told the Russian president that now is not a time for war, with food, fertiliser and fuel security among the major concerns of the world at present.

“I know that today’s era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this,” Mr Modi told Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation security bloc summit in Uzbekistan.

David Harding writes.

‘Now is not an era of war’: India’s Modi berates Putin over Ukraine conflict

Biden warns Putin against using chemical or tactical nuclear weapons

09:15 , Shweta Sharma

US president Joe Biden has warned Vladimir Putin against using nuclear or chemical weapons in Ukraine as it would “change the face of war unlike anything since World War Two”.

In an interview with TBEN News, Mr Biden did not reveal how the US would respond if such weapons were used when asked by the anchor.

“Don’t, don’t, don’t,” President Biden responded.

Mr Putin has put the country’s nuclear arsenal on “special” alert, citing aggressive statements by the west.

“You think I would tell you if I knew exactly what it would be? Of course, I’m not gonna tell you. It’ll be consequential,” Mr Biden responded.

If Russia were to use weapons of mass destruction “they’ll become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been. And depending on the extent of what they do will determine what response would occur.”

Latest from defence experts

08:58 , Katy Clifton

It is unclear whether Russian frontline forces have “sufficient reserves or adequate morale” to withstand another concerted assault in eastern parts of Ukraine, according to defence experts.

British defence intelligence analysts believe Moscow has established a defensive line between the Oskil River and the town of Svatove following a successful counter-offensive from the Ukrainians, forcing the Kremlin to concede swathes of territory.

The zone is viewed as important partly because it sits along the border of the Luhansk region, part of the Donbas, which Russia has sought to “liberate” as one of its key war aims.

Any substantial loss of territory here would “unambiguously undermine” Vladimir Putin’s strategy for the conflict, the experts say.

In its latest update on the situation in Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it is unclear whether Russia’s frontline forces have adequate reserves or morale to withstand another concerted Ukrainian assault in eastern parts of the country.

Read more below:

Russia ‘may not have sufficient reserves’ to withstand further Ukraine assault

Putin cannot achieve his Ukraine goals, says Pentagon intel chief

08:28 , Shweta Sharma

The Pentagon’s intelligence chief said on Friday that Vladimir Putin’s forces are incapable of achieving his goals, citing recent setbacks and stretched resources.

“We’re coming to a point right now where I think Putin is going to have to revise what his objectives are for this operation,” said Lt General Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, at an intelligence and national security conference outside Washington.

“Because it’s pretty clear right now that he’s… not going to be able to do what he initially intended to do.

“The Russians planned for an occupation, not necessarily an invasion, and that has set them back,” Mr Berrier added.

The Russian president’s reluctance so far to fully mobilise Russian forces and risk more manpower in the fight shows they planned to quickly sweep aside the Zelensky administration and enjoy an occupation in Ukraine rather than a prolonged war, he says.

All the latest developments in Ukraine

07:47 , Shweta Sharma

  • Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with Reuters that it was too early to say which way the tide of the war was turning and that the outcome hinged on the swift delivery of foreign weapons to his country.

  • In his first comments on Ukraine’s counteroffensive, Russian president Vladimir Putin brushed off the advances with a smile but warned that Russia would respond more forcefully if its troops were put under further pressure.

  • On the ground, Ukraine continues its offensive in the northeast while Russia has established a defensive line between the Oskil River and the town of Svatove, protecting one of its few main resupply routes from Russia’s Belgorod region, British military intelligence said on Saturday.

  • The head of a pro-Russian administration pushed out by the counteroffensive, Vitaly Ganchev, accused Ukrainians of staging atrocities in the city of Izyum.

  • United Nations human rights monitors will go to Izyum “to try to establish a bit more about what may have happened”, a spokesperson said.

  • Western sanctions are starting to hurt Russia’s ability to make advanced weaponry for the war in Ukraine, a top Nato military adviser told Reuters, though he said Russia could still manufacture “a lot of ammunition”.

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Ground report: Bodies were ‘put in sacks and thrown onto trucks’ in Izyum

07:18 , Shweta Sharma

The crosses are in neat rows, placed with almost military precision in a silent forest of falling autumn leaves. The tranquil scene hides what lies beneath: bodies, in their hundreds, of the dead of Izyum.

The mass grave was found by Ukrainian forces who recaptured the town; around 440 corpses, of more than a thousand estimated to have been killed during the Russian occupation.

Some of those buried in the forest appear to have been killed by bombs and artillery strikes in the fierce fighting for the town, which became the main Russian stronghold in the area.

Andryi Makarenkoin in Izyum and Kim Sengupta bring you details from the mass grave site.

Izyum mass grave discovery will be first of many, residents fear

UN votes in favour of Zelensky’s pre-recorded speech at General Assembly

07:08 , Shweta Sharma

Volodymyr Zelensky will be allowed to address the gathering of world leaders for the UN General Assembly next week virtually, making an exception to its rule of in-person speech.

The 193-member world body approved Mr Zelensky’s virtual address by a vote of 101-7 with 19 abstentions including China. The seven countries voting “no” were Belarus, Cuba, Eritrea, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia and Syria.

An amendment put forward by Belarus, a close ally of Russia, to allow pre-recorded addresses in future for any leader facing exceptional difficulties was defeated by a 23-67 vote.

The document, which was proposed by Ukraine and had more than 50 co-sponsors, permits Mr Zelensky to submit a pre-recorded statement to be played in the General Assembly hall.

It stresses that this will not set a precedent for future high-level assembly meetings.

‘Tortured, shot, killed’: Zelensky accuses Russia of genocide after Izyum mass grave discovered

06:57 , Shweta Sharma

Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of genocide after the discovery of a mass grave allegedly containing 440 bodies near Izyum, a city recently recaptured from Russian forces.

The Ukrainian president said there was evidence that victims had been tortured. He said that some had been found with broken limbs and ropes around their necks, and that the burial site contained the bodies of civilians and of military personnel.

“Children and adults. Civilians and military. Tortured, shot, killed by shelling,” Mr Zelensky said. “Even entire families are buried there: mother, father and daughter.”

Read Tom Batchelor and Joe Middleton’s latest report.

‘Tortured, shot, killed’: Zelensky accuses Russia of genocide after mass grave found

After China, India offers rare direct rebuke to Putin

05:51 , Shweta Sharma

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi told Vladimir Putin that “today’s era isn’t of war”, making his first direct rebuke of the Russian leader after months where New Delhi has held a position of neutrality in the Ukraine conflict.

“Today’s era isn’t of war and I’ve spoken to you about it on the call,” Mr Modi said in his first public criticism of Mr Putin.

“Today we’ll get the opportunity to talk about how can we progress on the path of peace. India-Russia has stayed together for several decades.”

In response, Mr Putin sought to assuage India‘s concern about the conflict in Ukraine, telling Mr Modi that Moscow wants to see a quick end to the fighting and alleging that Ukrainian officials won’t negotiate.

“I know your stand on the conflict in Ukraine and the concerns that you have repeatedly voiced,” the Russian leader told Mr Modi. “We will do all we can to end that as quickly as possible. Regrettably, the other side, the leadership of Ukraine, has rejected the negotiations process and stated that it wants to achieve its goals by military means, on the battlefield.”

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Putin told the Chinese president Xi Jinping that he understands his “questions and concerns” about the Ukraine conflict.

Putin warns of Ukraine escalation amid widening diplomatic isolation

05:33 , Shweta Sharma

Vladimir Putin has warned of “more serious” action against Ukraine amid intensifying questions at home and widening isolation on the world stage.

“Our offensive operation in the Donbas is not stopping. They’re moving forward – not at a very fast pace – but they are gradually taking more and more territory,” he said after a summit of authoritarian leaders in Uzbekistan.

The Russian army was forced to pull back its forces from large swathes of northeastern Ukraine last week after a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive.

In what was the largest largest military setback for Moscow since it was pushed back from the capital Kyiv early on in the invasion, Ukraine moved to reclaim control of several Russian-occupied cities and villages.

“Let’s see how it develops and how it ends,” he said referring to the Ukrainian counteroffensive.He said Ukraine has also attacked Russian civilian infrastructure and “we so far have responded with restraint, but just yet”.

“If the situation develops this way, our response will be more serious,” Mr Putin said.

“Just recently, the Russian armed forces have delivered a couple of impactful strikes,” he said in an apparent reference to Russian attacks earlier this week on power plants in northern Ukraine and a dam in the south.

“Let’s consider those as warning strikes.”

04:54 , Shweta Sharma

Good morning, welcome to our coverage of the Ukraine war on Saturday, 17 September.