Western powers have vowed to hold Russia accountable for the killings of civilians in the city of Bucha and other areas around Kyiv, accusing Moscow of a “horrific” war crime.
Officials in Ukraine said troops found civilian bodies with their hands tied, gunshot wounds to the head and signs of torture after Russian soldiers withdrew from the outskirts of the country’s capital. The Ukrainian government has accused Russian forces of committing a “massacre” and “genocide”.
After Ukraine announced on Saturday that it had regained control of the Kyiv region – for the first time since Vladimir Putin’s invasion on February 24 – the mayor of Bucha, a liberated town 37 km northwest of the capital, said hundreds its inhabitants had been killed by the Russian army.
Ukrainian prosecutors investigating possible war crimes by Russia have so far found 410 bodies in different towns near Kyiv, the country’s Attorney General Iryna Venedyktova said later on Sunday.
The photos of bodies strewn in the streets, wrapped in garbage bags and buried in mass graves in Bucha and the Kiev suburbs of Irpin and Hostomel prompted calls from officials in Ukraine and vows from ministers across Europe to enforce tougher sanctions on Moscow.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the multiple deaths looked like “a scene from a horror movie,” while Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, “The Bucha massacre was premeditated. We’re still collecting and looking for bodies, but the number is already in the hundreds.
“There are dead bodies in the streets. They killed civilians while they stayed and when they left those villages and towns.”
Mr Kuleba called on the G7 to impose “devastating” new sanctions on Moscow that would target the oil, gas and coal industries, exports of goods and the financial sector, and urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to examine evidence of to collect what he called war crimes.
In an interview with CBS News later Sunday, Zelensky himself said Russia was committing genocide against his country.
“This is indeed genocide. The annihilation of the whole nation and people,” he said through a translator. “We are citizens of Ukraine and do not want to submit to the policies of the Russian Federation. That is why we are being destroyed and exterminated.”
The Russian Defense Ministry denied that its forces killed civilians in Bucha, calling photos and videos from the city “another staged performance by the Kiev regime for the Western media”.
Moscow has previously denied attacking civilians and dismissed allegations of war crimes as part of a so-called “military special operation” aimed at demilitarizing and “denazifying” Ukraine.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain and the US were among those who condemned Russia over the Bucha reports.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the images of dead civilians were a “slap in the stomach” and that those responsible must be held accountable.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned Russia’s “despicable attacks” on civilians in Bucha and Irpin, calling them war crimes and pledged tougher sanctions against Moscow and increased military support to Ukraine. The UK government has pledged to support any war crimes investigations conducted by the ICC and Mr Johnson said it will provide additional resources and investigators to the court.
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that “indiscriminate” attacks by Russian forces on innocent civilians must be investigated as war crimes and that Britain will “not rest” until those responsible for the “atrocities” in Ukraine are brought to justice. Ms Truss added that Russia must not cover up its involvement with “cynical disinformation”.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has spoken frequently to Mr Putin in recent weeks, called the images “intolerable” and said Moscow “will have to answer for these crimes”, while German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said the killings were one “Horrible war crime [that] cannot go unanswered”.
Later, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Western allies would agree on further sanctions against Russia in the coming days in response to its ongoing invasion and the “atrocities” committed by its forces in Bucha.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg described the killings as “a level of brutality against civilians” not seen in Europe for decades, while UN chief Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply shocked” by the images and called for an independent investigation into the deaths .
Meanwhile, fighting in Ukraine continued on Sunday in the sixth week of a war that has displaced more than 4 million people as refugees and uprooted at least 6.5 million people in the country.
Rockets fell near the southern port of Odessa. Russia said it destroyed an oil refinery and fuel depots that the Ukrainian military used to resupply its troops.
The regional governor of northeastern Kharkiv said Russian artillery and tanks had launched more than 20 attacks on Ukraine’s second-largest city and its outskirts over the past day, killing an undisclosed number of civilians and wounding 23.
Evacuation efforts in south-east Mariupol and near Berdyansk were to continue, but with the help of the Red Cross a convoy of buses was being prepared The Independent understands that hopes are low after several previous attempts have failed.
The strategic port city is Russia’s main target for attacks in the Donbass region, and tens of thousands of civilians have been stuck there with very little to eat and drink for weeks. Several residents who had managed to flee the city on their own told the story The Independent on Saturday that those who remained there had been forced to bury the bodies of people killed by shells in graves they dug in gardens, parks and sandpits of kindergartens.
There was little sign of a breakthrough on Sunday in efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict, although Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said talks would resume via video conference on Monday.
Ukraine’s chief negotiator, David Arakhamia, said enough progress had been made for direct talks between Mr Zelenskyy and Mr Putin.