Ukraine says mass grave found in Izyum where Russians ousted days ago

A Ukrainian serviceman is seen in front of a destroyed apartment block in Izium. PHOTO: NYTIMES

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

Thousands of Russian troops fled Izyum 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 Izyum after liberation from the (Russians)”, with the largest burial site holding 440 unmarked graves, the Ukrainian defence ministry tweeted.

Serhiy Bolvinov, the chief police investigator for Kharkiv region, told Sky News: “Some died because of artillery fire ...  some died because of air strikes.” Reuters could not immediately verify the Ukrainian reports and there was no immediate comment from Russia.  

“Four hundred and fifty graves... This is just one of the mass burial sites discovered near Izyum. In the occupied territories, rampant terror, violence, torture and mass murders have been reigning for months,” senior presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited Izyum 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. 

On Friday, Zelensky lashed out at Russia as officials began exhuming bodies from the mass burial site.

“Russia leaves only death and suffering. Murderers. Torturers,” Zelensky said in a statement on social media, adding that more than 400 bodies discovered in forests near Izyum included children and people who likely had been tortured.

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 fortifying defences and it would be hard to maintain the pace of the advance.

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

Reuters video from the eastern town of Kupyansk, a key supply hub which Ukrainian forces recaptured last week, showed many buildings had been damaged or burned out.

“No electricity, no communications ... if there were communications we could at least talk to family. If only there hadn’t been all this bombing with everyone in their basements,”said one man. 

The speed of the advance has bolstered Ukrainian morale and given it some success to show its Western allies as it seeks more weapons to sustain its defence.  

In Washington, US President Joe Biden announced a new US$600 million arms package to help Ukraine, including High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and artillery rounds. The United States has sent about $15.1 billion dollars in security assistance to Kyiv since Russia’s Feb 24 invasion. REUTERS, AFP

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