Russian troops have prevented Ukrainian civilians from rescuing people trapped under rubble in a heavily shelled town near Kyiv, local residents have claimed.
Several witnesses in the recently recaptured town of Borodyanka, northwest of the capital, said Russian occupying soldiers prevented them from digging up the injured and dead.
Local police said hundreds of people who had huddled in basements to shelter from Russian attacks were most likely still buried under the rubble.
“We knew from the first day after the strike that people were down there,” said a resident named Maria the BBC.
“But they wouldn’t let us dig. My soul hurts — I knew them all,” she added.
Since Russian soldiers withdrew from Borodyanka, Ukrainian authorities have indicated that the level of destruction there is worse than near Bucha, where a mass grave was discovered last week.
Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, recently said the civilian death toll in Borodyanka is likely higher than in Bucha, a suburb where more than 300 people are said to have been killed.
Some of the victims in Bucha were found with gunshot wounds and their hands tied behind their backs, prompting outrage from the international community and calls for broader sanctions against Russia.
“I will never forget the horrific images of civilians killed in Bucha,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday in a speech before the UN Security Council via video link that Russia had committed the “most horrific war crimes” since World War II. Citing the atrocities committed in Bucha, he spoke of the slaughter of civilians and the rape of women.
“The world can see what the Russian military did in Bucha… But the world has yet to see what they did in other occupied cities and regions of our country,” he said.
That sentiment echoed the words of Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who said on Monday that “the horrors we saw in Bucha are just the tip of the iceberg” of Russian crimes.
Kyiv has indicated that around 5,000 Russian war crimes are currently under investigation.
The Kremlin on Tuesday said Western allegations of war crimes in Bucha were a “monstrous fabrication” aimed at discrediting the Russian army. Moscow, which has described the conflict as a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine, has repeatedly denied targeting civilians.
World leaders have offered to assist Ukraine in its task of collecting “evidence” of Russian war crimes.
“What we saw in Bucha is not the random act of a rogue entity. It is a targeted campaign of killing, torturing, raping and committing atrocities,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“The reports are more than credible. The evidence is there for the world to see,” he added.
Elsewhere, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that the actions of Kremlin troops in Bucha “are not far from genocide”.
This comes on the day after Mr Johnson called on the Russian people to oppose Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, saying the stain on their country’s reputation “will only grow bigger and more indelible”.
In response to the horrors discovered in Bucha, the EU, Britain and the US are introducing new sanctions intended to make Moscow pay financially for its aggression.
The sanctions target officials and their families – with reports suggesting Vladimir Putin’s daughters Maria Vorontsova, 36, and Katerina Tikhonova, 35, will be hit by US and EU measures – as well as Russian banks and state-owned companies,
Meanwhile, Mr Zelensky told the Irish Parliament that Russia was using hunger as a “weapon” of war, referring to the attack on food storage facilities and the mining of fields.
“Why do they do that? For them, hunger is also a weapon, a weapon against us ordinary people, an instrument of domination,” he said.
He added: “The country that does not do this does not deserve to be included in the circle of civilian countries. It should be held responsible for everything they did on Ukrainian soil.”