Ukraine accused Russian soldiers of killing unarmed civilians after large numbers of dead bodies were reported to have been found in areas near Kyiv which have been retaken by Ukrainian forces.
Emine Dzheppar, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, said soldiers who had retaken Bucha, a small city 60km north-west of the capital, from Russian forces had reported “numerous civilians shot dead”.
“Some of victims have their hands tied. Innocent victims. They didn’t deserve that,” she said.
In the nearby village of Motyzhyn Russian soldiers also “did terrible things”, she added. “Their cruelty is limitless. Before Ukrainian troops arrived, [the] Russian army killed as many civilians as possible. Inhuman. Terrible. Speechless.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, posted an image on Twitter appearing to show multiple dead bodies on the streets of Bucha. Some of the victims appeared to have their hands tied behind their backs.
“The bodies of people with tied hands, who were shot dead by [Russian] soldiers lie in the streets,” Podolyak said. “These people were not in the military. They had no weapons. They posed no threat. How many more such cases are happening right now in the occupied territories?”
Liz Truss, British foreign secretary, said she was “appalled by atrocities in Bucha and other towns in Ukraine” as the UK was collecting evidence of war crimes.
Allegations of war crimes perpetrated by Russian forces are emerging after Moscow started withdrawing its troops from the outskirts of Kyiv last week, instead shifting its war focus to the country’s east. Ukrainian authorities on Saturday claimed to have reclaimed all the Kyiv region after successfully defending the Ukrainian capital since Vladimir Putin started a full-scale invasion of the country on February 24.
People who visited the areas or spoke to residents in recent days said they saw corpses of civilians who appeared to have been shot, freshly dug graves, and other indications of suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity, prompting growing calls to investigate and prosecute the Russian officials responsible.
Human Rights Watch said on Sunday that it had documented several cases of unlawful violence that it described as “apparent war crimes”, including in the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions.
The New York-based watchdog group said that the cases it documented, which included summary executions and rape, pointed to “unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians”, and said that they should be investigated as war crimes.
Human Rights Watch said that in the village of Staryi Bykiv in Chernihiv region, Russian forces had rounded up six men on February 27, and then executed them.
Gyunduz Mamedov, a former deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine and specialist in international criminal law who toured Irpin and Bucha north-west of Kyiv on the weekend, said in addition to widespread destruction of infrastructure, he had seen corpses of civilians and freshly dug graves marked with crosses.
He said that about 50 per cent of buildings in Irpin had been damaged and about 300 civilians killed during the Russian offensive.
Mamedov voiced concern that evidence of what he called “grave crimes” by Russian troops before their withdrawal last week might be disturbed. He called for the creation of an investigative group to probe the alleged atrocities that would include police, prosecutors, and security officials, as well as forensics specialists to probe what he called “grave crimes committed in the context of international armed conflict”.
Melinda Simmons, the British ambassador to Ukraine, accused Russia of “monstrous crimes”.
“Mass graves. Bodies of civilians strewn across streets. Monstrous crimes becoming clearer daily as [Russia] withdraws and regroups,” she wrote on Twitter, adding: “Rape is a weapon of war. Though we don’t yet know the full extent of its use in Ukraine it’s already clear it was part of [Russia’s] arsenal.”
“Bucha’s massacre is Ukraine’s Srebrenica. This is what ‘denazification’ means for Russia,” said Marko Mihkelson, chair of the foreign affairs committee of Estonia’s parliament.
Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s defence minister, said: “After seeing Russian atrocities against civilians, if some in the free west still do not understand that we must do everything to make Russians lose and depart from whole Ukraine, then I am sorry for the west.”
Associated Press journalists in Bucha quoted local residents as saying the dead were civilians who had been killed by Russian soldiers without provocation. There was no immediate response from the Kremlin or Russian defence ministry.
Agence France-Presse reporters in the city said they saw at least 20 bodies on a single street.
Anatoly Fedoruk, mayor of Bucha, told AFP that 280 other bodies had already been buried in mass graves in the town.
The reports came as Ukrainian forces claimed they had regained control of the entire Kyiv region, including Bucha and other nearby towns and cities. Hanna Maliar, the country’s deputy defence minister, said late Saturday that Ukraine’s armed forces had taken back control of the provincial area from Russian forces.
“Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel and the whole Kyiv region were liberated from the invader,” she said in a Facebook post, referring to suburban towns north of the capital city.
Earlier on Saturday, the former chief prosecutor of United Nations war crimes tribunals Carla Del Ponte called for an international arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, telling Swiss media that the Russian president was a “war criminal”.
“I hoped never to see mass graves again,” she told the Blick newspaper. “These dead people have loved ones who don’t even know what’s become of them. That is unacceptable.”
“Every serious media outlet in the west tomorrow morning needs to ask what Scholz, Macron, Orban and Biden et al. have to say about the Bucha massacre,” Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia, said on Twitter. “And what they are going to do about it.”
The US state department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russia has pulled back its troops from around Kyiv in recent days after failing to breach Ukrainian defences.
The New York Times reported late Friday that the US would work with its western allies to deliver Soviet-era tanks to the Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Additional reporting by Richard Milne in Oslo and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe in London