Ukraine on Sunday accused Russian troops of war crimes after the discovery of mass graves and civilians apparently “executed” in the streets of Bucha, near the capital Kyiv.
The claims came as explosions rocked the Black Sea port city of Odessa, which has largely been spared in the conflict, with airstrikes apparently targeting key infrastructure.
In Bucha, AFP reporters saw at least 20 bodies, all in civilian clothing, strewn across a single street. One had his hands tied behind his back with a white cloth, and his Ukrainian passport left open beside his body. “All these people were shot,” Bucha’s mayor Anatoly Fedoruk said, adding that 280 other bodies had been buried in mass graves elsewhere in Bucha.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called it a “deliberate massacre” and urged G7 countries to impose “devastating” sanctions immediately. “It looks exactly like war crimes,” President Volodymyr Zelensky’s spokesman told BBC television.
“We found mass graves. We found people with their hands and with their legs tied up… and with shots, bullet holes, in the back of their heads.
“They were clearly civilians and they were executed.”
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called for “indiscriminate” Russian attacks in Bucha and elsewhere to “be investigated as war crimes”. “We will not allow Russia to cover up their involvement in these atrocities through cynical disinformation,” she added.
In Brussels, European Council chief Charles Michel said the EU was helping Ukraine and NGOs gather evidence “for pursuit in international courts”.
And Germany’s vice-chancellor and economy minister Robert Habeck said a “terrible war crime” had been carried out in Bucha and called for fresh EU sanctions against Russia. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has already opened a probe into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine. Several Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, have accused Russia’s Vladimir Putin of being a “war criminal”.
Human Rights Watch said it had documented cases of Russian troops committing possible war crimes against civilians in occupied areas of Chernigiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv, including rape and summary execution.
Zelensky has also alleged that Russian soldiers planted mines and other booby traps as they withdraw from northern Ukraine, warning returning residents to be wary of tripwires and other dangers.
Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk meanwhile said 11 local community leaders in Kyiv, Kherson, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Donetsk were “in captivity”.
In Odessa, plumes of thick black smoke billowed over the strategic port city, after airstrikes shook residents awake at about 6:00 am (0300 GMT).
“We were woken up by the first explosion then we saw a flash in the sky, then another, then another. I lost count,” one local man, Mykola, 22, told AFP from the roof of a building overlooking the site.
Russia’s defence ministry said, “High-precision sea and air-based missiles destroyed an oil refinery and three storage facilities for fuel and lubricants” at Odessa that were supplying fuel to Ukrainian troops.
Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said: “Some of the missiles were shot down by air defence.”
The strikes came as top UN humanitarian envoy Martin Griffiths was expected in Moscow then Kyiv to seek a halt in the fighting, which by Ukrainian estimates has left some 20,000 people dead.
Nearly 4.2 million Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia invaded on February 24, with almost 40,000 pouring into neighbouring countries in the last 24 hours alone, the UN refugee agency said. The International Organization for Migration said nearly 6.48 million were estimated to be displaced inside Ukraine.
Pope Francis, on a visit to the Mediterranean island of Malta on Sunday, made a plea for refugees fleeing the “sacrilegious war” in “tormented Ukraine” to be welcomed.
In talks to end the fighting, Russia’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said it was too early for a top-level meeting between Zelensky and Putin on ending the conflict.
He said Ukraine had become “more realistic” in its approach to issues related to the neutral and non-nuclear status of Ukraine but a draft agreement for submission to a summit meeting was not ready.