Hundreds found in mass grave after Russians exit Ukrainian city

Kyiv/KUPIANSK, Ukraine, Sept. 16 (Reuters) – Ukrainian officials said they found a mass grave site containing 440 bodies, mostly civilians, in a northeastern town retaken by Russian forces, calling it evidence of war crimes committed by the invaders on their territory committed were months occupied.

“Russia leaves death everywhere and must be held responsible for it,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video address overnight.

The site in the former Russian frontline stronghold of Izium would be the largest mass burial found in Europe since the aftermath of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Ukrainian forces recaptured Izium after thousands of Russian troops fled the area, leaving weapons and ammunition behind.

Ukrainian Police Chief Ihor Klymenko told a news conference that all bodies recovered at the site so far appeared to be of civilians, although there was information that some soldiers may have been buried there as well.

“For months terror, violence, torture and mass killings raged in the occupied territories,” Zelenskyi adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted in English over photos of a forest strewn with wooden crosses on fresh muddy ground. A huge pit was taped off with red and white caution tape.

Two coroners carry a body bag in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum in eastern Ukraine on September 16, 2022.
More than 400 bodies were discovered at a burial ground in Izium after the town was liberated by Russian forces.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

“Anyone else want to ‘freeze the war’ instead of sending tanks? We have no right to leave people alone with evil.”

Russia did not immediately comment on the reports of the mass burial site. In the past, it has denied that its troops committed any atrocities in the conflict. Moscow is calling its actions in Ukraine a “military special operation” to disarm its neighbor.

Small units of Ukrainian troops secured a nearly deserted ghost town in Kupyansk, a northeastern railroad junction town whose partial capture by Kiev’s forces on Saturday cut Russia’s supply lines and prompted a rapid collapse at the front.

Two coroners carry a body bag in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum in eastern Ukraine on September 16, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Russia to be “held accountable” for hundreds of civilian deaths in Izium, eastern Ukraine.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

blood on the floor

A police station formerly occupied by Russians was hastily abandoned in Kupiansk, about 60 kilometers north of Izium.

Russian flags and a portrait of President Vladimir Putin lay among broken glass on the floor of the station. Records had been set on fire. Behind the steel doors of the station’s prison cells, there was blood on the floor and stains on the mattresses.

Three free-ranging piglets from an abandoned barn were looking for food in the city street. Serhiy, a middle-aged man in a thin jacket, was hungry for news.

This photo taken on September 16, 2022 in eastern Ukraine shows crosses at a burial ground in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum. - Ukraine said on September 16, 2022 it had counted 450 graves at just one burial site near Izyum after retaking the eastern town from the Russians.
Previously, Russian troops had occupied Izium in Ukraine for months.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

“There is no electricity, no phones. If there was electricity, at least we could have watched TV. If there were phones, we could have called our relatives,” he said. “If only it hadn’t been for all these bombings with everyone in their basements.”

After a week of rapid gains in the Northeast, Ukrainian officials have tried to dampen expectations that they could continue to advance at this pace. They say Russian troops who fled the Kharkiv region are now dug in and plan to defend territory in neighboring Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.

“It is of course extremely encouraging to see that Ukrainian forces have been able to retake territory and also strike behind Russian lines,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told BBC radio.

Ukrainian soldiers search for landmines at a grave site in Izium, Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers search for landmines at a grave site in Izium, Ukraine.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

“At the same time, we must understand that this is not the beginning of the end of the war. We have to be prepared for the long haul.”

Putin has yet to comment publicly on the battlefield setback his troops have suffered this month. Ukrainian officials say 3,400 square miles have been reclaimed, roughly the size of the island of Cyprus.

Ukraine has also launched a major offensive to retake areas in the south, where it aims to trap thousands of Russian troops cut off from supplies on the west bank of the Dnieper and recapture Kherson, the only major city Russia has since left intact conquered beginning of the war.

Ukrainian forces have made significant progress in retaking Russian territory in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian forces have made significant progress in retaking Russian territory in eastern Ukraine.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

Russia’s state news agency RIA has released video of smoke billowing from the Russian-held Kherson administration building following apparent Ukrainian rocket attacks.

Kirill Stremousov, Russia’s deputy head of the region, told Russian state television that one wing of the building was virtually destroyed and there were fatalities and injuries, although it’s too early to tell how many. Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment.

In the east, according to Russian news agencies, the chief prosecutor of the pro-Russian separatist administration in Luhansk was killed along with his deputy in an explosion in his office. Russia also reported strikes across the border in its Belgorod region.

Two coroners dig up a body in a forest on the outskirts of Izium in eastern Ukraine, September 16, 2022.
Two coroners dig up a body in a forest on the outskirts of Izium in eastern Ukraine, September 16, 2022.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images

The war and sanctions against Russia have pushed up energy prices, particularly in Europe, which relies on Russian oil and gas. Germany announced on Friday that a regulator is seizing the German arm of Russian oil company Rosneft, including a huge refinery that supplies most of the fuel for the capital Berlin.

The Schwedt refinery relies on oil being pumped from Russia to former communist Eastern Europe through the Friendship pipeline. German officials have said they expect the country to stop receiving Russian oil.

The speed of Ukraine’s advance has boosted its morale and bolstered its case for more arms from Western allies.

In Washington, US President Joe Biden announced a new $600 million weapons package for Ukraine, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and artillery shells. The United States has sent about $15.1 billion in security aid to Kyiv since the Russian invasion on February 24.

https://nypost.com/2022/09/16/hundreds-found-in-mass-grave-after-russians-leave-ukraine-city/ Hundreds found in mass grave after Russians exit Ukrainian city

JACLYN DIAZ

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