BUCHA, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops found brutalized bodies with hands tied, gunshot wounds to the head and signs of torture after Russian soldiers withdrew from the outskirts of Kyiv, authorities said on Sunday, sparking fresh calls for a war crimes probe and sanctions against Russia.
Associated Press journalists saw the bodies of at least nine people in civilian clothes in Bucha, a small town northwest of the capital, who appeared to have been killed at close range. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs. The AP also saw two bodies wrapped in plastic, tied with duct tape and thrown into a ditch.
Authorities said they were documenting evidence of alleged atrocities to supplement their case for prosecuting Russian officials for war crimes. To convict, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court must demonstrate a pattern of indiscriminate deadly attacks on civilians during the Russian invasion.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said dozens of residents were found dead on the streets of Bucha and the Kiev suburbs of Irpin and Hostomel in a “scene from a horror movie”.
Some people were shot in the head and their hands were tied, and some bodies showed signs of torture, Arestovych said. There are also reports of rape, he said.
A day earlier, AP journalists saw Ukrainian soldiers carefully removing at least six bodies with cables from a street in Bucha in case the Russians had booby-trapped bodies with explosives before their departure. Local residents said the dead were civilians killed without provocation, a claim that could not be independently verified.
“What happened in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv can only be described as genocide,” Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko told the German newspaper Bild. Klitschko urged other nations to stop Russian gas imports immediately, saying they were funding the killings.
“Not a cent should go to Russia anymore. This is damn money used to slaughter people. The gas and oil embargo must come immediately,” said the mayor.
Russian troops invaded Ukraine from three sides on February 24, and soldiers entering Belarus from the north spent weeks clearing a route to Kyiv. Their advance stalled in the face of determined resistance from Ukrainian defenders, and Moscow said this week it would focus the invasion elsewhere in the future.
After the Russian troops retreated north all the way back to Belarus, signs of fierce fighting were everywhere: destroyed armored vehicles from both armies lay on roads and fields along with scattered military equipment. Ukraine’s military said its troops continued to scour areas outside the capital for mines, dead bodies and lingering Russian militants.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also called for tougher sanctions against Russia, including a total energy embargo, over the discoveries north of Kyiv. Kuleba tweeted on Sunday that the “Bucha massacre was premeditated” and claimed that the “Russians aim to eliminate as many Ukrainians as possible”.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, wrote on Twitter that he was shocked by the “huge images of atrocities committed by the Russian army” in the capital region. The EU and NGOs are backing efforts to secure evidence of war crimes, according to Michel, who pledged “further EU sanctions” against Russia.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy and the UK individually condemned what was described and said Russia will be held accountable.
“We will not allow Russia to use cynical disinformation to cover up its involvement in these atrocities and we will ensure that the reality of Russian actions is brought to light,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
As Russia withdrew from the capital, other parts of the country were besieged. Russia has announced it is directing troops into eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces for eight years.
Mariupol, a southeastern port city on the Sea of Azov, remained cut off from the rest of the country as Russian ground forces fought to occupy the city. About 100,000 civilians – less than a quarter of the pre-war population of 430,000 – are thought to be trapped there with little or no food, water, fuel and medicine.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it hoped a team of nine staff and three vehicles it dispatched on Saturday to help evacuate residents would reach Mariupol on Sunday, but warned: “The situation ahead Place is volatile and subject to rapid changes.”
Ukrainian authorities said Russia days ago agreed to allow safe passage out of the city, which has been the scene of some of the worst attacks and suffering, but similar deals have repeatedly collapsed amid continued fire.
A supermarket parking lot in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia has become a gathering place for tens of thousands of people fleeing Mariupol.
Peycheva Olena, who made it out of the besieged town, told Britain’s Sky News that she was forced to leave her husband’s body unburied when he was killed in a shootout.
“There was shelling and we tried to pull him away, but it was too much, we couldn’t do it,” explained her daughter Kristina Katrikova.
As the geography of the battlefield changed, little changed for many Ukrainians on the 39th day of a war that has left more than 4 million people fleeing the country as refugees and driving millions more from their homes.
The mayor of Chernihiv, which has also been under attack for weeks, said Sunday that relentless Russian shelling had destroyed 70% of the northern city. As in Mariupol, Chernihiv is cut off from deliveries of food and other relief supplies.
“People are thinking about how to live until tomorrow,” Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko said.
On Sunday morning, Russian forces fired rockets at the Black Sea port of Odessa in southern Ukraine, sending up plumes of dark smoke that obscured parts of the city. The Russian military said the targets were an oil processing plant and fuel depots near Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port and home to its navy.
“I live in this eight-story building. At 6 a.m. Russia launched an attack and this boulder reached my house,” said Maiesienko Ilia, who lives near one of the facilities attacked.
Odessa City Council said Ukraine’s air defenses shot down some missiles before they hit the city. Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Nazarov said there were no casualties in the attack.
The regional governor in Kharkiv said Sunday that Russian artillery and tanks had carried out more than 20 attacks on Ukraine’s second-largest city and its outskirts in the north-east of the country over the past day.
The head of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia said Moscow’s negotiators had informally agreed to most of a draft proposal discussed at face-to-face talks in Istanbul this week, but no written confirmation had been provided.
Ukraine’s chief negotiator, Davyd Arakhamia, said on Ukrainian TV that he hopes the proposal is advanced enough for Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet to discuss it. But Russia’s top negotiator in the talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Mediksy, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying it was too early to talk about a meeting between the two leaders.
When his country’s troops retook territory north of the capital from retreating Russian troops, Zelenskyy called on all Ukrainians to do everything “to thwart the enemy’s tactics and weaken their capabilities.”
“Peace will not be the result of decisions made by the enemy somewhere in Moscow. There is no reason to harbor empty hopes that they will simply leave our country. We can only have peace by fighting,” Zelenskyy said late Saturday.