KYIV (Reuters) – Ukrainian authorities have discovered a mass grave of more than 440 bodies in the northeastern town of Izium, which was recaptured from Russian forces a few days ago, an official said. of the regional police, adding that some people had been killed by shelling and airstrikes. .
Thousands of Russian soldiers fled Izium last weekend after occupying the city and using it as a logistics hub in the Kharkiv region. They left behind large quantities of ammunition and equipment.
“I can say this is one of the largest burial sites in a major city in the liberated (areas)… 440 bodies were buried in one place,” investigator Serhiy Bolvinov told Sky News. police chief of the Kharkiv region. “Some died from artillery fire…some died from airstrikes.”
Reuters could not immediately verify the Ukrainian allegation and there was no immediate public comment from Russia on the allegation.
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President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who made a surprise visit to Izium on Wednesday to greet Ukrainian troops, blamed Russia and compared the discovery to what happened in Bucha, on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv earlier in the year. invasion at the end of February. by Russian forces.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian forces of perpetrating war crimes there. Tens of thousands of civilians were likely killed in a separate Russian attack on the southern port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said in April.
“Russia is leaving death everywhere behind and must be held accountable,” Zelenskiy said in a video address Thursday night.
Russia has denied targeting civilians or committing war crimes.
After a week of rapid Ukrainian gains in the northeast, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces were strengthening defenses and it would be difficult to keep up the pace of the advance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to publicly comment on the setback suffered by his forces this month. Ukrainian officials say 9,000 km2 (3,400 sq mi) have been taken over, a territory the size of the island of Cyprus.
Footage shot by Reuters on Thursday in the eastern town of Kupiansk, which Ukrainian forces recaptured last week, shows many buildings were damaged or burned.
“No electricity, no communications…if there was communications, we could at least talk to the family. If only there hadn’t been all this bombing with everyone in their basements “said one man.
The speed of the advance raised hopes of further gains before the onset of winter.
But Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Ukraine’s Lugansk region, said it would still be an uphill battle to regain control of his region from Russia, which recognizes it as an independent state controlled by separatists.
There was also no respite from Russia’s daily missile strikes on Thursday, a day after it fired cruise missiles at a reservoir dam near Kryvyi Rih, Zelenskiy’s hometown in central Ukraine.
Authorities in Kryvyi Rih are working to repair the damage and as a result water levels are falling, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the presidential administration.
Ukrainian forces repelled three Russian attacks north of the city of Donetsk, the Armed Forces General Staff said in a Facebook post.
Russian forces have launched attacks on several settlements on the Kharkiv frontline in the past 24 hours, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said.
Reuters was unable to verify reports from the battlefield.
CHINA‘S CONCERNS ABOUT UKRAINE
Putin said on Thursday he understood Chinese leader Xi Jinping was concerned about the crisis in Ukraine, a surprise acknowledgment of friction with Beijing over the war.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, China has toed a cautious line, criticizing Western sanctions against Moscow but stopping short of endorsing or aiding the military campaign.
“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends on the Ukrainian crisis,” Putin told Xi in Uzbekistan when they met for the first time since the start of the war.
“We understand your questions and concerns about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position.”
Xi did not mention Ukraine in his public remarks, nor in a Chinese report of the meeting.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later told reporters the talks with China had been excellent.
The last time Putin and Xi met, they signed a “limitless” friendship agreement between their countries. Three weeks later, Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a “special military operation” to “disarm” its smaller neighbor.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of an unprovoked war of aggression. Pope Francis has said it is morally right for nations to supply arms to Ukraine to help the country defend itself against Russian aggression.
“It’s a political decision that can be moral, morally acceptable, if taken under conditions of morality,” Francis told an airline news conference as he flew in from a trip to Kazakhstan.
Francis also urged the government of Kyiv to be open to a possible dialogue, even if it may “smell” because it would be difficult for the Ukrainian side.
In Washington, US officials said the United States would soon announce a new $600 million arms package for Ukraine’s military.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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