Bodies with colorful hands, nearby gunshot wounds and signs of torture lay scattered in a city on the outskirts of Kiev after Russian soldiers withdrew from the area. Ukrainian authorities accused the departing troops on Sunday of committing war crimes and leaving behind a “scene from a horror movie”.
As images of the bodies from Bucha began to emerge, a slew of European leaders condemned the atrocities and called for tougher sanctions against Moscow. In a sign of how the horrific reports shook many leaders, the German defense minister even suggested that the European Union consider banning Russian gas imports.
So far, the bodies of 410 civilians have been found in cities in the Kyiv region that have recently been recovered from Russian troops, said the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Iryna Venediktova.
Associated Press journalists saw the bodies of at least 21 people in various places around Bucha, northwest of the capital. One group of nine, all in civilian clothes, was dispersed across a site in which residents said Russian troops were using it as a base. She appeared to have been killed at close range. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs, one was shot in the head, and another had his legs tied.
Ukrainian officials blamed the killings in Bucha and other suburbs of Kiev Square at the feet of Russian troops, with the president citing evidence of genocide. But Russia’s Defense Ministry denied the allegations as a “provocation”.
The findings follow the Russian retreat from the area around the capital, area that has seen heavy fighting since troops invaded Ukraine from three directions on Feb. Troops advancing from Belarus to the north attempted for weeks to make their way to Kiev, but their advance was firmly in the face of resolute defense of Ukraine’s troops.
Moscow now says it is launching its offensive in the east of the country, but it also pushed for a siege of a city in the north and continued to strike cities elsewhere in a war that has left thousands dead and more than 4 million Ukrainians forced to flee their country.
Russian troops rolled into Bucha in the early days of the invasion and remained until March 30. With those forces away, residents gave harrowing accounts Sunday, saying soldiers shot and killed civilians for no apparent reason.
One resident, who refused to give his name for fear of his safety, said Russian troops went to build buildings and took people from the basements where they hid, checking their phones for any evidence of anti-Russian activity and took them away or shot them.
Hanna Herega, another resident, said Russian troops began firing on a neighbor who had gone out to collect wood for heating.
“They hit him a little above the heel, crushed the bone, and he fell down,” Herega said. “Then they shot off his left leg completely, with the boot. Then they shot him everywhere.”
The AP also saw two bodies, that of a man and a woman, wrapped in plastic that funeral residents said they had covered and placed in a shaft until a good one could be arranged.
“He put his hands up, and he shot himself,” said the resident who refused to be identified.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, described bodies lining the streets of the suburbs of Irpin and Hostomel, such as Bucha as a “scene from a horror movie.” He claimed that some of the women found dead had been raped before being murdered and the Russians then burned the bodies.
“This is genocide,” Zelenskyy told CBS ‘Face the Nation on Sunday.
But Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the photos and videos of dead bodies were “controlled by the Kyiv regime for the Western media.” It noted that the mayor of Bucha did not mention any abuse a day after Russian troops left.
The ministry said “no civilian has anything to do with violent actions by the Russian army” in Bucha.
Russia also asked for a meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday to discuss events in the city, which blamed “Ukrainian provocateurs and their Western supporters.” The US and Britain have recently accused Russia of using Security Council meetings to disseminate disinformation.
In Motyzhyn, about 50 kilometers west of Kiev, residents told AP on Sunday that Russian troops killed the city’s mayor, her husband and her son and threw their bodies into a hole in a pine forest behind houses where Russian troops slept. Inside the bullet, AP journalists saw four bodies of people who appeared to be nearby shot. The mayor’s husband had his hands behind his back, with a piece of rope nearby, and a piece of plastic wrapped around his eyes like a blindfold.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk confirmed that the mayor was assassinated while being held by Russian troops.
Some European leaders said the killings in the Kyiv region were tantamount to war crimes. The US has previously said it believes Russia has committed war crimes, and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called images of what happened near Kiev “a punch to the gut” on CNN’s “State of the Union”.
“It is a brutality against civilians that we have not seen in Europe for decades,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on the same show.
Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko called on people to stop Russian gas imports immediately, saying they were financing the killings.
In a statement, the German defense minister said the EU would consider doing just that. Ministers “should talk about stopping gas supplies from Russia,” Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told German public broadcaster ARD on Sunday evening. “Such crimes must not go unanswered.”
Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s gas and 25% of its oil, and so far many EU nations have resisted calls to scale back or completely end confidence in Russian fossil fuels. Giving up would mean even higher prices at the pump and higher utilities, possibly an energy crisis and a recession.
The US has previously announced a ban on Russian oil, but it imports only a small portion of Russia’s oil exports and does not buy natural gas.
When Russian troops withdrew from the area around the capital, they forced their sieges into other parts of the country. Russia has said it is targeting the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for eight years.
In that region, Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov that has seen some of the greatest suffering of the war, remained cut off. About 100,000 citizens – less than a quarter of the pre-war population of 430,000 – are believed to be trapped there with little or no food, water, fuel and medicine.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday that a team sent on Saturday to help residents evacuate had not yet reached the city.
Ukrainian authorities said Russia had agreed days ago to allow safe passage out of the city, but similar agreements have been broken several times under ongoing protection.
The Chernihiv mayor, who has also been cut off from shipping food and other supplies for weeks, said ruthless Russian bombing had destroyed 70% of the northern city.
The Ukrainian military said early Monday that its troops had retaken some cities in the Chernihiv region and that humanitarian aid was being provided. The road between Chernihiv and the capital Kiev, according to the news agency RBK Ukraina, would reopen to some traffic later in the morning.
The regional governor of Kharkiv said on Sunday that Russian artillery and tanks had launched more than 20 attacks on the second largest city in Ukraine and its outlying areas in the northeast of the country in the past day.
The head of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia said Moscow’s negotiators had informally agreed with most of a draft proposal discussed this week during face-to-face talks in Istanbul, but no written confirmation was provided.