Even heavy rain couldn’t erase the smell of death in a pine forest in Izium on Friday afternoon, as Ukrainian investigators worked their way through a mass burial site found in the eastern Ukrainian city. recaptured from Russian army.
Ukraine’s defense ministry said at least 440 “unmarked” graves were found in the city in recent days. President of the country Volodymyr zelensky The US said on Friday that some of the bodies found in Izium showed “signs of torture”, blaming Russia for “brutalism and terrorism”.
Izium was subject to intense Russian artillery attacks in April. The city, which sits near the border between the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, became an important center for the invading army during the five-month occupation. Ukraine’s military took control of the city on Saturday in a strategic blow to Russia’s military offensive in the east.
When CNN arrived at the mass burial site Friday afternoon, officers were carrying a body bag, including a very small one, in a refrigerated truck.
Most of the graves at the burial site are separate graves, with wooden crosses placed at the head of a mound of dirt. Names and numbers are handwritten on some. The number of one was up to 398. In the name of another 82-year-old man. An official at the site told CNN that the investigation would determine when these people died.
Next in the woods is what appears to be a former military position, with the position of the tank dug deep into the ground.
A policeman at the scene told CNN that the site was a mass grave where 17 bodies were found.
“There are civilian bodies and military people ahead here,” said Igor Garmash, an investigator at the scene, pointing to a location near the site he was investigating.
“More than 20 bodies have been examined and sent for further investigation,” he told CNN.
Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications said on Thursday that some of the graves discovered in Izium were “fresh” and that the bodies buried there were “mostly civilians”.
Ukrainian Parliament’s Human Rights Commissioner Dmitro Lubinets said in a video statement from the site that “right next to me is a whole family … it’s a young family … father was born in 1988, wife was born in 1991 , their younger daughter was born in 2016.”
He said locals told investigators that the family had been killed in a Russian airstrike.
“Also, we saw a mass burial of Ukrainian army soldiers here. The way they were buried — you’ll see evidence that their hands were tied, they were killed at close range,” Lubinet said.
An Izium resident, who lives across the street from the mass burial site, told CNN that the Russians first hit a nearby city cemetery with an airstrike and then went inside.
“They brought their own special machines. They dug some ditch for their vehicles. We only heard how they were destroying the forest, ”Nadezhda Kalinichenko told CNN.
She said she tried not to go out when the city was under Russian occupation because she was too scared.
“When they left, I don’t know if there was a fight or not. We just heard about a lot of heavy trucks one night a week ago,” she said.
Zelensky said during his address on Thursday that Russia should be held accountable for the deaths there and in other cities where large numbers of bodies were found.
,bush, Mariupol And now, unfortunately, Izium… Russia leaves death everywhere. And should be responsible for this. The world should take the real responsibility of this war on Russia. We will do everything for it,” he said.
The governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Sinihubov, said that “the scale of the crimes committed by the invaders in Izium is enormous. This is bloody brutal terror.”
Sinihubov said that “450 bodies of civilians with traces of violent death and torture were buried in the forest belt. It is difficult to imagine something like this in the 21st century, but now it is a sad reality in Izium.”
Sinihubov said that “99 percent of the bodies exhumed on Friday showed signs of violent death.”
“There are several bodies with their hands tied behind their backs, and one man tied with a rope around his neck. Obviously, these people were tortured and killed. Children are also among those buried,” he said.
Zelensky talks to CNN about Ukraine’s retaliatory strike against Russia
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s commissioner for missing persons Oleh Kotenko said in a Telegram post that the search operation for the remains of “fallen heroes” was going on carefully across the region.
“The biggest problem is that mining is still done in some areas. Despite this, we continue to work, because we have to return each hero home so that the family can honor the memory of the soldiers who died for Ukraine as honorably as possible,” Kotenko said.
Zelensky visited Izium on Wednesday and told reporters he was “shocked” by the number of “destroyed buildings” and “killed people” that were left in the wake of the Russian occupation.
A UN source told CNN that a team from the UN’s human rights monitoring agency – OCHR – will be visiting Izium and its surrounding areas as soon as possible.
The source said the war crimes investigation team could follow up after that. Their specific destination is unclear at this time.
Moscow was using Izium as a launching pad for attacks to the south in the Donetsk region and Kupiyansk, about 48 kilometers (30 mi) north of Izium, and a rail hub to re-supply its forces. was using as.
Zelensky also thanked foreign governments for sending investigators and prosecutors to investigate alleged human rights abuses by occupation forces in Ukraine, adding that all occupied territories would eventually return.
Ukraine’s military continues to launch military offensives, especially in the northeastern and southern regions of the country.
Zelensky said Tuesday that 8,000 square kilometers (3,088 sq mi) of territory has been liberated by Ukrainian forces so far this month, with nearly half the area still undergoing “stabilization” measures.