Bodies with bound hands, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture lay scattered in a city on the outskirts of Kyiv after Russian soldiers withdrew from the area. Ukrainian authorities on Sunday accused the departing forces of committing war crimes and leaving behind a “scene from a horror movie.”
As images of the bodies — of people whom residents said were killed indiscriminately — began to emerge from Bucha, a slew of European leaders condemned the atrocities and called for tougher sanctions against Moscow.
Liz Truss, the UK Foreign Secretary, vowed not to rest until “those responsible for atrocities, including military commanders and individuals in the Putin regime, have faced justice”.
She said: “Their indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians during Russia’s illegal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine must be investigated as war crimes.
“We will not allow Russia to cover up their involvement in these atrocities through cynical disinformation, and will ensure that the reality of Russia’s actions is brought to light.”
Following the liberation of Bucha, to the north-west of Kyiv, Ukrainian authorities published images of the bodies of men, women and children on the streets, many wearing civilian clothing and with their hands tied behind their backs.
The bodies of 410 civilians have been removed from Kyiv-area towns that were recently retaken from Russian forces, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Iryna Venediktova, said.
Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation in the US, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, described the killings as genocide.
“We are the citizens of Ukraine. We have more than 100 nationalities,” he said. “This is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities. We are citizens of Ukraine and we don’t want to be subdued to the policy of Russian Federation.
“This is the reason we are being destroyed and exterminated. And this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century. So this is the torture of the whole nation.”
The horrifying scenes prompted further international condemnation of the Russian invasion and calls for economic sanctions against Moscow to be ramped up.
In a clear break from Berlin’s perceived neutrality, senior German ministers accused Putin’s forces of “war crimes” and backed a tightening of punitive measures against his regime.
Annalena Baerbock, the foreign minister, said: “The images from Bucha are unbearable. Putin’s unrestrained violence is wiping out innocent families and knows no boundaries. Those responsible for these war crimes must be held accountable.
“We will tighten sanctions and support Ukraine even more in its defence.”
Olaf Scholz, the Germany chancellor, said: “Terrible and horrifying footage reaches us from Ukraine. Civilians, including women, children and the elderly, shot dead in Bucha, which until a few days ago was controlled by the Russian military.
“I demand that international organisations be given access to these areas to independently document the atrocities. We must relentlessly investigate the crimes of the Russian military and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, tweeted: “The images reaching us from Bucha, a liberated town near Kyiv, are unbearable. In the streets, hundreds of murdered civilians. My compassion for the victims, my solidarity with the Ukrainians. The Russian authorities will have to answer for these crimes.”
“This is not a battlefield, it’s a crime scene,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted.
The EU’s most senior officials backed Britain’s calls for Russian atrocities to be pursued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said she was “appalled by reports of unspeakable horrors” and called for an “independent investigation”.
Charles Michel, the European Council leader, said the EU would assist Ukrainian authorities to gather evidence and build a case against Russian war crimes.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s veteran foreign minister, said Paris would support Kyiv and western governments to “ensure that these acts do not go unpunished”.
Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said: “You can’t help but see these images as a punch to the gut.
“Since the aggression, we’ve come out and said that we believe that Russian forces have committed war crimes. We’ve been working to document that, to provide the information we have to the relevant instructions and organisations that will put all of this together. And there needs to be accountability for it.”
Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, urged Germany to immediately stop sending “blood money” to Moscow and called for a ban on oil and gas purchases to starve Putin’s war machine.
But European diplomats were unconvinced that Berlin would drop its opposition to an outright embargo on the import of Russian gas and oil in the light of the attacks in Bucha.
A source told The Telegraph: “We will shrug it off and go back to the comforts of our houses to put the temperature up another notch against the harsh weather outside. I’m under no illusion that we will probably continue our supine reaction that allowed Putin to get this far.”
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, one of Poland’s deputy premiers, accused Berlin and Paris of being too close to Moscow in the lead-up to the invasion.
He said: “Germany, like France, has a strong bias in Moscow’s favour. The German government did not want to see what Russia was doing under Putin – and we see the result today.”
Ukrainian officials laid the blame for the killings — which they said happened in Bucha and other Kyiv suburbs — squarely at the feet of Russian troops, with the president calling them evidence of genocide. But Russia’s Defense Ministry rejected the accusations as “provocation.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the photos and videos of dead bodies “have been stage managed by the Kyiv regime for the Western media.” It noted that Bucha’s mayor did not mention any abuses a day after Russian troops left.
The ministry charged said “not a single civilian has faced any violent action by the Russian military” in Bucha.
Moscow now says it is focusing its offensive on the country’s east, but it also pressed a siege on a city in the north and continued to strike cities elsewhere in a war that has already forced more than 4 million Ukrainians to flee their country and many more to leave their homes.
Russian troops rolled into Bucha in the early days of the invasion and stayed up March 30. With those forces gone, residents gave harrowing accounts Sunday, saying soldiers shot and killed civilians without any apparent reason.
One resident, who refused to give his name fearing for his safety, said that Russian troops went building to building and took people out of the basements where they were hiding, checking their phones for any evidence of anti-Russian activity and taking them away or shooting them.
Hanna Herega, a resident of Bucha, said Russian troops shot a neighbor who had gone out to gather wood for heating.
“He went to get some wood when all of a sudden they (Russians) started shooting. They hit him a bit above the heel, crushing the bone, and he fell down,” Herega said. “Then they shot off his left leg completely, with the boot. Then they shot him all over (the chest). And another shot went slightly below the temple. It was a controlled shot to the head.”
The AP also saw two bodies, that of a man and a woman, wrapped in plastic that residents said they had covered and placed in a shaft until a proper funeral could be arranged.
Ukraine sees openings as Russia fixed on besieged Mariupol
Residents of Ukraine’s besieged southeastern coast awaited possible evacuation Sunday as the country’s president said Russia’s obsession with capturing a key port city had left its forces weakened and created opportunities for his military.
Two loud explosions were heard in Odesa on the Black Sea, and black smoke was seen rising above the city, which is where Ukraine’s navy is headquartered. It is west of Mariupol, a smaller port that has been under attack for almost the entire war and rescuers are desperate to reach.
The Odesa city council said in a brief statement that a morning airstrike set off fires in some areas. The Russian military said hours later that it used ships and aircraft-fired missiles to strike an oil processing plant and fuel depots that were supplying Ukrainian troops.
The city council said Ukraine’s air defence shot down some missiles before they hit the city. Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Nazarov said there were no casualties from the attack.
In Mariupol, conditions remained dire and prospects for escape uncertain. The surrounded city, which has been brutalized by some of the war’s worst attacks, reported weeks ago that water, food, fuel and medicine were running out. About 100,000 people are believed to still be there, less than a quarter of the city’s prewar population of 430,000.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it hoped a team is sent to help evacuate residents would reach Mariupol on Sunday. Ukrainian authorities said Russia agreed days ago to allow safe passage from the city, but similar agreements have broken down repeatedly under continued shelling.
Mariupol is in the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region, where Moscow-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops for eight years. Its capture would create an unbroken land corridor from Russia to Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Zelenskyy and Ukraine’s Western allies believe Russia has shifted its forces from the capital region and the country’s north in order to build strength in the east and south. The Ukrainian leader again urged the West to supply his military with warplanes and more anti-missile systems.
“Every Russian missile that hits our cities and every bomb dropped on our people, on our children, only adds black paint to the history that will describe everyone on whom the decision depended – the decision of whether to help Ukraine with modern weapons,” Zelenskyy said.
While the geography of the battlefield morphed, little changed for many Ukrainians more than five weeks into a war that has sent more than four million people fleeing the country as refugees and displaced millions more from their homes.
The head of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia said Moscow’s negotiators informally agreed to most of a draft proposal discussed during face-to-face talks in Istanbul this week, but no written confirmation has been provided.
The Ukrainian negotiator, Davyd Arakhamia said on Ukrainian TV that he hoped the was developed enough so that the two countries’ presidents can meet to discuss it.
Ukrainian authorities warned that Russia’s focus on eastern Ukraine did not mean Kyiv and other cities wouldn’t become targets again. In his evening address Saturday, Zelenskyy called for his people to do whatever they can to ensure the country’s survival, even by engaging in acts as simple as showing each other kindness.
“When a nation is defending itself in a war of annihilation when it is a question of life or death of millions, there are no unimportant things. … And everyone can contribute to a victory for all,” the president said.
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