Kiev: Ukrainian authorities have carried out mass exhumations of more than 440 bodies buried in a forest located at the edge of Izyum city, recently liberated from Russian occupation, a media report said on Saturday.
Around 100 Ukrainian emergency service workers wearing blue plastic coverings dug the earth, opening makeshift graves, the BBC report said, adding they are now trying to ascertain the cause of death.
Olexander Ilyenkov, prosecutor of the Kharkiv region where the city is located, believes war crimes had been committed.
“In the first grave, there is a civilian who has a rope over her neck. So we see the traces of torture. Some of them were killed, some were tortured, some were killed because of Russian Federation air and artillery strikes” he told the BBC, adding that almost everyone died because of Russian soldiers.
International journalists were brought in to witness the mass exhumations at the burial ground which contained rows of graves, marked by crude wooden crosses.
According to the BBC report, names were written on few of the grave, but most were marked only by a number.
Police have put the number of graves at 445, but the exact number was still not clear as some of the graves contained more than one body.
Prosecutors have said some were killed by Russian shelling and others were victims of an airstrike on an apartment block in March, in which 47 people were killed.
In a social media post on Friday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said “the whole world should see this”.
“A world in which there should be no cruelty and terrorism. But all this is there. And its name is Russia. More than 400 bodies were found at the mass burial site in Izyum. With signs of torture, children, those killed as a result of missile attacks, warriors of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
“Russia leaves only death and suffering. Murderers. Torturers. Deprived of everything human. You won’t run away. You won’t hide. Retribution will be justly dreadful. For every Ukrainian, for every tortured soul,” Zelensky said in the post.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned “in the strongest possible terms” what he described as the “atrocities” committed in Izyum, the BBC reported.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called the development “horrifying” and said: “We’re going to continue to actively support efforts to document war crimes and atrocities that Russian forces commit in Ukraine and to assist national and international efforts to identify and hold Russians accountable.”
The city of Izyum, invaded in April, was used by Russia as a key military hub to supply its forces from the east.