The European Union has called for a war crimes tribunal after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said new evidence of torture was found as more bodies were removed from a mass burial site in a city recaptured by Russian forces.
Czech Republic Foreign Minister Jan Lipavaski, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said on Saturday that “Russian attacks against the civilian population are unimaginable and abhorrent” in the 21st century.
“We must not ignore this. We all stand for the punishment of war criminals,” he wrote in a message on Twitter. “I call for the early establishment of a special international tribunal that will prosecute the crime of aggression.”
The appeal comes after Ukrainian authorities discovered some 450 graves outside the formerly Russian-occupied city of Izium, some of the exhumed bodies showing signs of torture.
Zelensky said in his evening address that “new evidence of torture was found” from the bodies buried there.
“More than 10 torture chambers have already been found in various cities and towns that have been liberated in the Kharkiv region,” he said, describing the discovery of electrical devices for torture.
“That’s what the Nazis did. That’s what the Russists do. And they will be held accountable in the same way—both on the battlefield and in the courts,” he said, using the term “Russianists” for “Russian fascists.”
Reporting from Kharkiv, Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid said the situation in Izium looked “gruesome on many levels”.
“Izeum is now a desolate city, completely destroyed. There’s barely a building that hasn’t been at least partially damaged, and I’m talking about civilian targets here – apartment blocks, schools, Pharmacies, churches – a very desolate picture, ”said Abdel-Hamid.
“This is where you see the real toll of this war. This is a city that has been besieged, which has been a fierce battle between the two sides. It is now firmly under the control of Ukraine. You soldiers We see it roaming the streets, but there is no trace of life.”
‘Maybe 1,000 were tortured and killed’
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said mass graves are likely to provide more evidence that Russia is committing war crimes in its western neighbor. French President Emmanuel Macron described what had happened in Isium as atrocity.
“Perhaps more than 1,000 Ukrainian citizens were tortured and killed in the liberated areas of the Kharkiv region”, said Dmitro Lubinets, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner.
The United Nations in Geneva has said it hopes to send a team to determine the circumstances of the deaths.
A little more than five months after Russian forces were driven from Buka near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the discovery of the macabre left behind hundreds of corpses of civilians, many with signs of torture and summary executions.
On Thursday, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said she wants Russian President Vladimir Putin to face the International Criminal Court over war crimes in Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden meanwhile warned his Russian counterpart against using chemical or strategic nuclear weapons in view of serious losses in his war in Ukraine.
“Don’t. Don’t. No,” Biden said in an excerpt from an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes that aired Friday evening.
“You will change the face of war unlike anything since World War II,” Biden said.
Mike Hanna of Al Jazeera, reporting from Washington, DC, said, “In April the director of the CIA warned Congress that President Putin could deploy nuclear devices”.
“It is also important to note that President Putin signed a Russian military doctrine in 2020 that explicitly states that Russia will use nuclear devices if other countries use nuclear devices against them, but then — And this is the important point – it can also respond to the use of nuclear weapons of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened,” Hannah said.
“Many military experts do not see the possibility of Putin using a nuclear weapon. However, many say that this does not rule out the fact that he is, in other words, to bring the parties to the negotiating table. In words, to proceed, to de-escalate, to threaten to use.
‘push them back’
On the ground, Ukrainian forces have occupied thousands of square kilometers in recent weeks, thanks to a counteroffensive in the northeast, and now threaten enemy positions in the south, as fighting and bombings continue.
The Russians are “angry because our forces are pushing them back in their retaliatory strike”, said Svitlana Shpuk, a 42-year-old activist in the southern city of Krivi Rih and the hometown of Zelensky, which has been flooded after Russians destroyed a dam. Went. Missiles.
Sinegubov said an 11-year-old girl was killed when missiles fired into the area.
Pavlo Kirilenko, the governor of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, which has been partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, said on social media that a thermal power plant in Mykolivka was “shot by Russian invaders” on Saturday morning.
Ukrainian firefighters are battling the fire, saying Russian shelling has disrupted drinking water supplies.
“The occupiers are deliberately targeting infrastructure in the area in an attempt to cause as much damage as possible, mainly to the civilian population,” he alleged.
He had earlier reported that two civilians were killed and 11 were injured in Russian firing in the past 24 hours.