Zelensky accuses Russia of torture and 'genocide' after bodies of civilians found
Warning: This story contains images showing dead bodies
- Canada's foreign minister says killings in Ukrainian city of Bucha are 'clearly war crimes.'
- Ukraine's Zelensky meets with residents in Bucha, denounces killings as 'genocide,' 'war crimes.'
- Russian foreign minister rejects allegations of atrocities in Bucha.
- Red Cross says it again cannot reach besieged city of Mariupol due to security conditions.
Moscow faced a new wave of global revulsion and accusations of war crimes Monday after the Russian pullout from the outskirts of Kyiv revealed streets strewn with corpses of what appeared to be civilians, some seemingly killed deliberately at close range.
The images of battered bodies out in the open or in hastily dug graves also led to calls for tougher sanctions against the Kremlin, namely a cutoff of fuel imports from Russia. Germany reacted by expelling 40 Russian diplomats, Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, Mélanie Joly vowed that "these acts of terror won't go unpunished," and U.S. President Joe Biden said Russian leader Vladimir Putin should be tried for war crimes.
"This guy is brutal, and what's happening in Bucha is outrageous," Biden said, referring to the town northwest of the capital that was the scene of some of the horrors.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky left the capital, Kyiv, for his first reported trip since the war began nearly six weeks ago to see for himself what he called the "genocide" and "war crimes" in Bucha. He said dead people had been "found in barrels, basements, strangled, tortured."
Later, in a video address to the Romanian parliament, Zelensky said he fears there are places where even worse atrocities have happened.
"The military tortured people and we have every reason to believe that there are many more people killed," he said. "Much more than we know now."
Bodies wrapped in black plastic were piled on one end of a mass grave in a Bucha churchyard. Many of the victims had been shot in cars or killed in explosions trying to flee the city, northwest of Kyiv, and with the morgue full and the cemetery impossible to reach, it was the only place to keep the dead, Father Andrii Galavin said.
Tanya Nedashkivs'ka said she buried her husband in a garden outside their apartment building after he was detained by Russian troops and was found dead with two others in a stairwell.
"Please, I am begging you, do something!" she said. "It's me talking, a Ukrainian woman, a Ukrainian woman, a mother of two kids and one grandchild. For all the wives and mothers, make peace on Earth so no one ever grieves again."
Another Bucha resident, Volodymyr Pilhutskyi, said his neighbour Pavlo Vlasenko was taken away by Russian soldiers because the military-style pants he was wearing and the uniforms that Vlasenko said belonged to his security guard son appeared suspicious. When Vlasenko's body was later found, it had burn marks from a flamethrower, his neighbour said.
"I came closer and saw that his body was burnt," Pilhutskyi said. "They didn't just shoot him. They also used that weapon which sends out fire."
The mayor of Bucha told CBC's Power & Politics there are more than 300 victims in his community, including children and senior citizens.
"You ask how we feel and what we feel? I'm sorry, the only thing is great anger," Anatoly Fedoruk told Catherine Cullen, "not only to Russian military but, I'm very sorry to say, even to Russian people."
He said this is how every Ukrainian is feeling, no matter where they live.
"If these crimes are not prosecuted, then they will happen again in different countries, in small countries," he said, adding that there may be even more victims who have not yet been found.
Russia says photos were 'stage managed'
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected the allegations, describing the scenes outside Kyiv as a "stage-managed anti-Russian provocation."
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the images contained "signs of video forgery and various fakes."
Russia's UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, insisted Monday at a news conference that during the time that Bucha was under Russian control, "not a single local person has suffered from any violent action." He said locals were moving freely around the town using cellphones and could post photos or video on social media "of any theoretical harassment," but they did not.
High-resolution satellite imagery by commercial provider Maxar Technologies showed that many of the bodies have been lying in the open for weeks, during the time that Russian forces were in Bucha. The New York Times first reported on the satellite images showing the dead.
Zelensky to address UN Security Council
Russia has similarly rejected previous allegations of atrocities as fabrications on Ukraine's part.
Ukrainian officials said the bodies of at least 410 civilians have been found in towns around Kyiv that were recaptured from Russian forces in recent days.
The Ukrainian prosecutor general's office described one room discovered in Bucha as a "torture chamber." In a statement, it said the bodies of five men with their hands bound were found in the basement of a children's sanatorium where civilians were tortured and killed.
Associated Press journalists reported seeing 21 bodies in Bucha, including a group of nine in civilian clothes who appeared to have been shot at close range. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs. A bag of groceries were spilled by one of the dead.
Zelensky will address the UN Security Council for the first time at a meeting Tuesday that is expected to focus on the killings.
In Motyzhyn, to the west of Kyiv, AP journalists saw the bodies of four people who appeared to have been shot at close range and thrown into a pit. Residents said the mayor, her son, and her husband — who had been bound and blindfolded — were among them.
The full extent of the bloodshed in the Kyiv area has yet to emerge, but by all accounts the horrors in the shattered southern port city of Mariupol are likely to be even worse.
"This is a war of murders, a lot of blood. A lot of civilians are dying," said Natalia Svitlova, a refugee from Dnipro in Eastern Ukraine who fled to Poland. "I don't understand why this is possible in the 21st century and why no one can stop it."
Moscow continued to press its offensive in Eastern Ukraine, where little news has made it to the outside world since the war began Feb. 24. Russia, in pulling back from the capital, has said its main focus is gaining control of the Donbas, the largely Russian-speaking industrial region in the country's east that includes Mariupol.
About two-thirds of the Russian troops around Kyiv have now left and are either in Belarus or on their way there, probably getting more supplies and reinforcements, said a senior U.S. defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence assessment.
Russian forces also appear to be repositioning artillery and troops to try to take the city of Izyum, which lies on a key route to the Donbas, the official said.
Calls to boycott Russian energy
European allies, though united in outrage over the aftermath outside Kyiv, appeared split on how to respond.
Poland, which is on Ukraine's border and has taken in large numbers of refugees, angrily singled out France and Germany for not taking tougher action and urged Europe to quickly wean itself off Russian energy. But Germany said it would stick with a more gradual approach of phasing out coal and oil imports over the next several months.
Western and Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia of war crimes before, and the International Criminal Court's prosecutor has opened a probe to investigate the conflict. But the latest reports ratcheted up the condemnation.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said "the Russian authorities are responsible for these atrocities, committed while they had effective control of the area."
French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that there is "clear evidence of war crimes" in Bucha that demand new measures. "I'm in favour of a new round of sanctions and in particular on coal and petrol. We need to act," he said on France-Inter radio.
But Poland's prime minister, who described Russia under President Vladimir Putin as a "totalitarian-fascist state," called for actions "that will finally break Putin's war machine."
"President Macron, how many times have you negotiated with Putin? What have you achieved? ... Would you negotiate with Hitler, with Stalin, with Pol Pot?" Mateusz Morawiecki asked.
The U.S. and its allies have sought to punish Russia for the war by imposing sweeping sanctions on Russia. But they may be reluctant to impose measures that cause further harm to a global economy still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
Europe is in a particular bind, since it gets 40 per cent of its gas and 25 per cent of its oil from Russia.
Putin's Feb. 24 invasion has killed thousands of people and forced more than four million Ukrainians to flee their country.
"The horrors that we've seen in Bucha are just the tip of the iceberg of all the crimes that have been committed by the Russian army on the territory of Ukraine so far," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
"And I can tell you without exaggeration but with great sorrow that the situation in Mariupol is much worse compared to what we've seen in Bucha and other cities, towns, and villages nearby Kyiv."
The Ukrainian government says that 18 journalists have also been killed in the country since Russia's invasion began.
The Ukrainian Culture and Information Ministry said in a statement on social media Monday that each of the deaths and other crimes against media representatives will be investigated.
The ministry added that another 13 journalists had been wounded, eight had been abducted or taken prisoner and three journalists were still missing. It said that several crimes had been committed against journalists from 11 countries, including Ukraine.
Putin has said the invasion is aimed at eliminating a security threat and demanded that Ukraine drop its bid to join the NATO military alliance of Western countries. Ukraine insists it never posed any threat but has offered to officially declare itself neutral.
Ukraine holding on to Mariupol
While Western officials initially said they believed Putin's goal was to take Kyiv and potentially install a Kremlin-friendly government, Russian forces faced stiff resistance outside the capital and on other fronts, and have now retreated from some areas.
Britain's Defence Ministry said Monday that Russia is continuing to flood soldiers and mercenaries from the Wagner private military group into the Donbas. It said Russian troops are also still trying to take the strategic port city of Mariupol, which lies in the region and has seen weeks of heavy fighting and some of the worst suffering of the war.
"Mariupol is almost certainly a key objective of the Russian invasion," the ministry said, "as it will secure a land corridor from Russia to the occupied territory of Crimea," in the south, which Moscow annexed in 2014.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said a total of 2,405 people were evacuated along a humanitarian corridor route running from Mariupol to the Ukraine-held city of Zaporizhzhia on Monday, with 1,553 of those coming from Mariupol itself and the rest from other locations in the heavily contested area.
Vereshchuk added that 971 other people were evacuated from five locations in the eastern Luhansk region, where Russia is now focusing much of its military efforts. She accused Russia of "systematically breaching" a local ceasefire planned to facilitate evacuations there.
Also Monday, the Ukrainian military said its forces had retaken some towns in the northern Chernihiv region and humanitarian aid was being delivered.
With files from Reuters