Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
AP

Ukrainian president: Burial site contains torture victims

From the This morning's top headlines: Friday, Sept. 16 series

Investigators searching through a mass burial site in Ukraine have found evidence that some of the dead were tortured, including bodies with broken limbs and ropes around their necks

  • Updated
  • 0

IZIUM, Ukraine (AP) — Investigators searching through a mass burial site in Ukraine have found evidence that some of the dead were tortured, including bodies with broken limbs and ropes around their necks, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy said Friday.

The site near the northeastern city of Izium, recently recaptured from Russian forces, appears to be one of the largest discovered in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy spoke in a video he rushed out just hours after the exhumations began, apparently to underscore the gravity of the discovery. He said more than 440 graves have been found at the site but that the number of victims was not yet known.

Digging in the rain, workers hauled body after body out of the sandy soil in a misty pine forest near Izium. Protected by head-to-toe suits and rubber gloves, they gently felt through the decomposing remains of the victims’ clothing, seemingly looking for identifying items.

Associated Press journalists who visited the site saw graves marked with simple wooden crosses. Some of the markers bore people’s names and had flowers hanging from them.

Before digging, investigators with metal detectors scanned the site for explosives, and soldiers strung red and white plastic tape between the trees.

Zelenskyy said hundreds of civilian adults and children, as well as soldiers, had been found near Izium’s Pishchanske cemetery after being tortured, shot or killed by artillery shelling.

He cited evidence of atrocities, such as a body with a rope around its neck and broken arms. In another sign of possible torture, one man was found with his hands tied, according to Serhiy Bohdan, the head of Kharikiv police investigations, and Ukraine’s commissioner for human rights, Dmytro Lubinets.

Ukrainian authorities warned that their investigation was just beginning, and the scale of the killings could rise dramatically.

“The harsh reality indicates that the number of dead in Izium may be many times higher than the Bucha tragedy,” Oleg Kotenko, an official with the Ukrainian ministry tasked with reintegrating occupied territories, said on Telegram.

Bucha is a Kyiv suburb where authorities have said 458 bodies were found after a 33-day Russian occupation. Authorities say they have uncovered the bodies of more than 1,300 people elsewhere, many in mass graves in the Kyiv-area forest.

Zelenskyy, who visited the Izium area Wednesday, said the discoveries showed again the need for world leaders to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.

Meanwhile, in his first public comments on Ukraine's recent battlefield gains, Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to press on with the war and warned that Moscow could ramp up its strikes on the country’s vital infrastructure if Ukrainian forces target facilities in Russia.

“If the situation develops this way, our response will be more serious,” Putin told reporters Friday after attending a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan.

Russia has reported numerous explosions and fires at civilian infrastructure sites near Ukraine, as well munitions depots and other facilities. Ukraine has claimed responsibility for some of the attacks and refrained from commenting on others.

The “liberation” of Ukraine’s entire eastern Donbas region remained Russia’s main military goal, Putin said.

“We aren’t in a rush,” he said, adding that Russia has only deployed volunteer soldiers to fight in Ukraine.

Some hard-line Russian politicians and military bloggers have lamented manpower shortages and urged the Kremlin to follow Ukraine’s example and order broad mobilization to beef up the ranks.

Ukrainian forces gained access to the site near Izium after recapturing the city and much of the wider Kharkiv region in a lighting advance that suddenly shifted the momentum in the nearly seven-month war. Ukrainian officials also found evidence of torture elsewhere in the region.

The U.N. human rights office said it would investigate, and the human rights group Amnesty International said the discovery of the mass burial site confirmed “our darkest fears.”

“For every unlawful killing or other war crime, there must be justice and reparation for victims and their families and a fair trial and accountability for suspected perpetrators,” said Marie Struthers, the group's director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Most of the people buried at the site were believed to be civilians, but a marker on one mass grave said it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.

Russian officials distanced themselves from responsibility for the site.

The Khariv region's Russian-installed governor, Vitaly Ganchev, told Russia's state-run Tass news agency that Ukrainian, not Russian, forces were responsible for civilian casualties in Izium. Tass also quoted a member of Russia's parliament, Alexander Malkevich, claiming that Ukrainian troops had abandoned their dead, so Russian forces buried them.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, the war continued to claim lives and wreak destruction.

— Ukraine’s presidential office said Russian shelling killed five civilians and wounded 18 in a 24-hour span. Missile strikes were also reported, with Zelenskyy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih among the targets for a third consecutive day Friday. Air raid sirens howled in the capital, Kyiv.

— More killings targeting pro-Russian separatist officials were reported in areas under their control. Separatist authorities said a blast killed the prosecutor-general and his deputy of the self-proclaimed republic in the Luhansk region. Moscow-backed authorities said two Russian-installed officials were also killed in Berdyansk, a city in the Zaporizhzhia region occupied earlier in the war. And local authorities reported three people were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike on an administrative building in Russian-occupied Kherson.

— To bolster the Ukrainian offensive, the Biden administration announced another $600 million package of military aid.

Izium resident Sergei Gorodko said that among the hundreds buried in individual graves were dozens of adults and children killed in a Russian airstrike on an apartment building, some of whom he pulled out of rubble “with my own hands.”

Izium was a key supply hub for Russian forces until they withdrew in recent days. Izium city council member Maksym Strelnikov told reporters that hundreds of people had died during the fighting and after Russia seized the town in March. Many couldn’t be properly buried, he said.

His claims could not be immediately verified, but similar scenes have played out in other cities Russian forces captured, including Mariupol.

Ukraine’s national police chief, Ihor Klymenko, said “torture chambers” have been found in the Kharkiv region's recaptured towns and villages. The claim could not be independently verified.

Seven Sri Lankan students who fell into Russian hands in Kupiansk, also in the Kharkiv region, have also said that they were held and mistreated, he said.

“They are scared, they were abused,” Klymenko said. They include “a woman who can barely speak” and two people with torn toe nails.


This story has been updated to correct that seven, not six, Sri Lankan students said they fell into Russian hands.


Associated Press journalists Hanna Arhirova and Jon Gambrell in Kyiv and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed reporting.


Follow AP war coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

0 Comments
* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Two new laws in California will let developers bypass local governments to build housing on commercial land. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed laws Wednesday aimed at increasing housing production. Both laws would let developers bypass local laws to build housing on land set aside for businesses. One law requires a certain amount of the housing units to be affordable. The other law does not require affordable housing but says the project must go through an environmental review process. Local governments largely oppose the laws because of the land's potential for generating corporate tax revenue. Housing would generate lower revenue.

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step into the legal fight over the classified documents seized during an FBI search of his Florida estate. The Trump team asked the court Tuesday to overturn a lower court ruling and permit an independent arbiter, or special master, to review the roughly 100 documents with classified markings that were taken in the Aug. 8 search. A three-judge panel last month limited the review to the much larger tranche of non-classified documents. A veteran Brooklyn judge, Raymond Dearie, is serving as special master.

The FBI search of Donald Trump’s Florida estate has spawned a parallel “special master” process that has slowed the Justice Department's criminal investigation and exposed simmering tensions between department prosecutors and lawyers for the former president. The probe into the presence of top secret information at Mar-a-Lago continues. But barbed rhetoric in the past week's court filings has laid bare deep disagreements related to the special master’s work and made clear that a process the Trump team initially sought has not been playing to the president’s advantage. The special master, Raymond Dearie, is a former federal prosecutor and served as a U.S. District judge in Brooklyn.

Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has stood by the false claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent during an interview with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. That is according to Rep. Bennie Thompson, the panel's Democratic chairman. The committee has for months sought an interview with Thomas in an effort to know more about her role in trying to help former President Donald Trump overturn his election defeat. She texted with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and contacted lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin after the election. Thomas' attorney says his client was solely focused on ensuring reports of voter fraud and irregularities were investigated.

Russian troops abandoned a key Ukrainian city so rapidly that they left the bodies of their comrades in the streets. The scene offered more evidence Tuesday of Moscow’s latest military defeat as it struggles to hang on to four regions of Ukraine that it illegally annexed last week. Russia’s upper house of parliament rubber-stamped the annexations Tuesday after “referendums” that Ukraine and its Western allies dismissed as fraudulent. Responding to the move, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy formally ruled out talks with Russia. Meanwhile, the U.S. announced it would provide an additional $625 million in military aid to Ukraine, including more of the advanced rocket systems credited with helping Ukraine's military momentum.

The National Archives has informed congressional lawmakers that a number of electronic communications from Trump White House staffers remain missing, nearly two years since the administration was required to turn them over. The nation’s record-keeping agency cited the records' status in a letter Friday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The acting U.S. archivist, Debra Steidel Wall, writes that despite an ongoing effort by staff, electronic communications between certain unidentified White House officials are still not in their custody. The letter went on to specify that the National Archives would consult with the Justice Department about how to recover “the records unlawfully removed.”

Nevada gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo distanced himself from his backer, former President Donald Trump, on Sunday, over his election lies but said he believes Trump's policies “moved the country forward.” Incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, meanwhile, defended President Joe Biden's policies as he sought to make abortion the centerpiece of the race. Lombardo and Sisolak held their first debate on Sunday in Las Vegas, clashing over the same topics as in other midterm races: abortion, the economy, education and crime. Lombardo has flip-flopped on certain measures around abortion but says he supports the state’s law allowing the procedure up to 24 weeks into pregnancy.

A dramatic family fight has clouded the GOP’s hopes in Georgia’s high-stakes Senate contest. Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker is drawing criticism from his own son as Walker denies a report that he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion. But as the midterm campaign speeds into its final full month, leading Republicans believe the Senate majority remains firmly within their reach. Democratic strategists privately concede that their party's own shortcomings may not be outweighed by the GOP’s mounting challenges. Democrats have no margin for error as they confront the weight of history, widespread economic concerns and President Joe Biden’s weak standing.

A massive income tax cut that mainly benefits wealthy Arizonans that has been championed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey will go into full effect ahead of schedule next year. Ducey’s office announced the accelerated phase-in of the cuts on Thursday. The plan will save taxpayers about $1.9 billion next year compared to before the plan was enacted last year. About 75% of the cuts are in effect for this year's taxes. The vast majority of those cuts go to high-earning Arizonans. Ducey says the average family will save $300 a year. But critics say a family earning $70,000 a year will save just $58. Meanwhile, someone earning $500,000 will save $16,000. The Legislature's budget analysts come up with similar numbers.

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News