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Ukraine says mass graves found in Izium after city recaptured from Russia

Ukraine says mass graves found in Izium after city recaptured from Russia

Ukraine says mass graves, ‘torture chambers’ found in Kharkiv region after Russian retreat

  • Mass graves found in Ukraine’s northeastern city of Izium after it was retaken from Russian forces just days ago
  • President Zelensky likened discovery to Bucha, where Kyiv and its allies accused Moscow’s troops of war crimes
Ukraine war

Ukrainian authorities found a mass grave containing 440 bodies in the northeastern town of Izium that was recaptured from Russian forces days ago, officials said, including some people killed by shelling and air strikes.

Thousands of Russian troops fled Izium last weekend after occupying the city and using it as a logistics hub in the Kharkiv region. They left behind large amounts of ammunition and equipment.

“Mass graves are being discovered in Izium after liberation from the (Russians)”, with the largest burial site holding 440 unmarked graves, the Ukrainian defence ministry tweeted on Thursday.

Serhiy Bolvinov, the chief police investigator for Kharkiv region, told Sky News: “Some died because of artillery fire … some died because of air strikes”.

There was no immediate comment from Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited Izium on Wednesday, compared the discovery to alleged war crimes by Russian forces against civilians in Bucha, on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv, in the early stages of war.

“Russia is leaving death behind it everywhere and must be held responsible,” Zelensky said in a video address late on Thursday.

Deputy Interior Minister Yevhen Enin said that other evidence found after Kyiv’s sweeping advance into the Kharkiv region included multiple “torture chambers” where both Ukrainian citizens and foreigners were detained “in completely inhuman conditions”.

“We have already come across the exhumation of individual bodies, not only with traces of a violent death, but also of torture – cut off ears, etc. This is just the beginning,” Enin said in an interview with Ukraine’s Radio NV.

He claimed that among those held at one of the sites were students from an unspecified Asian country who were captured at a Russian checkpoint as they tried to leave for Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Enin did not specify where the students were held, although he named the small cities of Balakliya and Volchansk as two locations where torture chambers were found. His account could not be independently verified.

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“All these traces of war crimes are now carefully documented by us. And we know from the experience of Bucha that the worst crimes can only be exposed over time,” Enin said.

Russia has denied targeting civilians or committing war crimes.

The grim discoveries came as the White House on Thursday announced it had approved a new package of up to US$600 million in additional military aid for Ukraine, including equipment and services, as well as training.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

Since Russia’s invasion began, the United States has provided more than US$15 billion in military assistance to Kyiv.

European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen was in Kyiv on Thursday for discussions with Ukraine’s leaders about “getting our economies and people closer”.

Her trip coincided with a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his increasingly close ally Chinese leader Xi Jinping in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan, where the men hailed their strategic ties in defiance of the West.

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“We will never be able to match the sacrifice that the Ukrainians are making,” von der Leyen told reporters during a joint press conference with Zelensky.

“But what we can tell you is that you’ll have your European friends by your side as long as it takes.”

Kyiv gained EU candidacy status in June at the same time as ex-Soviet Moldova, which borders Ukraine and like its neighbour has had Russian troops stationed in an eastern breakaway region.

A field covered with craters close to Izium, Ukraine. Photo: AP

The historic candidacy vote angered Moscow, which has tried to retain political and military influence in both countries since the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago.

EU countries have staunchly supported Ukraine since Moscow invaded in February by hitting Russia with economic penalties.

Many members of the bloc have also supplied Kyiv with advanced weapons that have helped Ukrainian forces in recent weeks recapture swathes of territory.

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Germany’s defence minister pledged more weapons on Thursday, saying Berlin would provide armoured vehicles and rocket launch systems – but not the battle tanks sought by Ukraine.

Von der Leyen said just ahead of her trip that the successive waves of EU sanctions against Russia were “here to stay”.

The Kremlin maintains that Russia has weathered the economic penalties. Moscow has responded by reducing or halting entirely gas flows to European countries.

Ukrainian paratroopers drive on the vehicle on a pontoon bridge across Siverskiy-Donets river in the recently retaken area of Izium, Ukraine. Photo: AP

Putin has yet to comment publicly on the setback suffered by his forces this month. Ukrainian officials say 9,000 sq km (3,400 sq miles) have been retaken, territory about the size of the island of Cyprus.

The Ukrainian presidency said on Thursday that intense fighting was ongoing around that southern front, adding that the military situation “remains extremely difficult”.

Local officials in the region around Zelensky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih reported fresh Russian strikes Thursday after attacks damaged a dam and saw dozens of homes flooded.
At the meeting in Uzbekistan, Putin blasted attempts to create a “unipolar world” and praised China’s stance on the conflict.

“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis,” Putin told Xi.

Beijing has not explicitly endorsed Moscow’s invasion but it has steadily built economic and strategic ties with Russia over the six months of the war.

Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse