IZIUM, Ukraine (TBEN) — Ukrainian authorities have found a mass grave near a recaptured northeastern city previously occupied by Russian forces, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced Thursday evening.
The tomb was discovered near Izium in the Kharkiv region.
“The necessary procedures have already been started there. More information — clear, verifiable information — should be available tomorrow,” Zelenskyy said in his overnight televised address.
The Bharat Express News journalists spotted the site Thursday in a forest outside Izium. Among the trees were hundreds of graves with simple wooden crosses, most of which were marked only with numbers. A larger grave bore a marker saying it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.
Investigators with metal detectors scanned the site for hidden explosives.
Oleg Kotenko, an official at the Ukrainian ministry in charge of the reintegration of occupied territories, said videos posted by Russian soldiers on social media indicated that there were likely more than 17 bodies in the grave.
“We haven’t counted them yet, but I think it’s more than 25 or even 30,” he said.
Sergei Gorodko, a resident of Izium, said that among the hundreds buried in individual graves, dozens of adults and children were killed in a Russian airstrike on an apartment building.
He said he pulled some of them out of the rubble “with my own hands.”
Zelenskyy mentioned the names of other Ukrainian cities where authorities said retreating Russian troops were leaving behind mass graves of civilians and evidence of possible war crimes.
‘Bucha, Mariupol, now alas Izium. … Russia leaves death everywhere. And he has to be held accountable for that. The world must make Russia take real responsibility for this war,” he said in the speech.
Sergei Bolvinov, a senior investigator for the Ukrainian police in the eastern region of Kharkov, told British TV channel Sky News that a pit containing more than 440 bodies was discovered near Izium after troops invaded Kiev. He described the tomb as “one of the greatest burial sites in a liberated city.”
Some people buried in the pit were shot. Others died from artillery fire, mines or air raids. Many of the bodies have not yet been identified, Bolvinov said.
Russian forces left Izium and other parts of the Kharkiv region last week amid a stunning Ukrainian counter-offensive. On Wednesday, Zelenskyy made a rare trip outside the capital to watch the national flag hoisted over Izium City Hall.
Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Enin said Thursday evening that other evidence found after Kiev’s sweeping advance in the Kharkiv region included multiple “torture chambers” where both Ukrainian citizens and foreigners were held “in completely inhumane conditions”.
“We have already encountered the exhumation of individual bodies, not only with traces of a violent death, but also of torture – ears cut off, etc. This is just the beginning,” Enin said in an interview with Radio NV of Ukraine.
He claimed that among those detained at one of the sites were students from an unnamed Asian country who were captured at a Russian checkpoint as they tried to leave for Ukraine-controlled territory.
Enin did not specify where the students were being held, although he cited the small towns of Balakliya and Volchansk as two locations where torture chambers were found. His account could not be independently verified.
“All these traces of war crimes have now been carefully documented by us. And we know from Bucha’s experience that the worst crimes can only come to light over time,” Enin said, referring to a suburb of Kiev where the bodies of hundreds of civilians were discovered after the withdrawal of the Russian army from the Soviet Union. area in March.
Earlier Thursday, Zelenskyy said that during the five months that the Russians occupied the region, they “only destroyed, only robbed, only took away”.
“They left ruined villages behind; in some of them there is not a single undamaged house. The occupiers turned schools into rubbish dumps and churches – shattered, literally turned into toilets.”
In other developments on Thursday, Zelenskyy worked to add political momentum to Ukraine’s recent military gains, as rocket attacks that caused flooding near his hometown demonstrated Moscow’s determination to regain battlefield advantage.
A week after the Ukrainian counter-offensive, Zelenskyy met the leader of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, during her third war visit to Kiev. Von der Leyen publicly expressed the sincere support of the 27-nation bloc and wore an outfit in the national colors of Ukraine.
“It is imperative and necessary to support Ukraine with the military equipment they need to defend themselves. And they’ve proven they can do it, if they’re well equipped,” she said.
Air raid sirens blared twice in Kiev during von der Leyen’s meeting with Zelenskyy, a reminder that Russia has long-range weapons that can reach any location in Ukraine, even though the capital has been spared attacks in recent weeks.
Ukrainian officials said Russian missiles hit a dam near Kryvyi Rih, Zelenskyy’s hometown and the largest city in central Ukraine, on Wednesday. More than 100 houses were flooded as a result of the strikes.
Russian military bloggers said the attack was intended to flood downstream areas where Ukrainian forces invaded as part of their counteroffensive.
The head of the local government reported another attack on the dam on Thursday and said emergency services were working to prevent more water from escaping.
The first attack so close to his roots infuriated Zelenskyy, who said the attacks had no military value.
“In fact, hitting hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens is another reason why Russia will lose,” he said.
Hanna Arhirova in Kiev and Joanna Koslowska in London reported.
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