By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and NEBI QENA – Associated Press
BUCHA, Ukraine (AP) – Moscow faced global revulsion and accusations of war crimes on Monday after Russia’s withdrawal from the outskirts of Kyiv revealed streets littered with the bodies of what appeared to be civilians, some of whom appeared to have been killed at close range were.
The grisly images of battered bodies left in the open or hastily buried led to calls for tougher sanctions against the Kremlin, namely a halt to fuel imports from Russia. Germany responded by expelling 40 Russian diplomats and Lithuania expelled its Russian ambassador.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy left the capital Kyiv on his first reported trip since the war began almost six weeks ago to see for himself what he called the “genocide” and “war crimes” in the city of Bucha, where some of the horrors took place.
“Dead bodies were found in barrels and cellars, strangled, tortured,” said Zelensky, who again urged Russia to act quickly to negotiate an end to the war.
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In Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, bodies wrapped in black plastic were piled at one end of a mass grave in a churchyard. Many of the victims were shot in cars or killed in explosions trying to flee the city, and with the morgue full and the cemetery inaccessible, that’s the only place the dead are kept, he said Father Andrii Galavin.
Tanya Nedashkivs’ka said she buried her husband in a garden outside their apartment building after he was arrested by Russian troops and found dead in a stairwell along with two others.
“Please, I beg you, do something!” she said. “I’m talking here, a Ukrainian, a Ukrainian, mother of two children and one grandchild. For all wives and mothers, make peace on earth that no one mourns again.”
Other European leaders and the UN human rights chief condemned the bloodshed, and US President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin should face a war crimes trial.
“This guy is brutal, and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous,” said Biden, who also vowed to tighten sanctions on Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the scenes outside Kyiv as a “staged anti-Russian provocation”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the images contained “signs of video forgery and various forgeries.”
Russia similarly dismissed earlier allegations of atrocities as fabrications by Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials said the bodies of 410 civilians were found in towns around Kyiv that were retaken by Russian forces in recent days.
In Bucha, Associated Press journalists saw 21 bodies, including a group of nine people in civilian clothes, who appeared to have been shot at point-blank range. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs. A bag of groceries was spilled by one of the dead.
The full extent of the bloodshed in the Kyiv region is not yet known. By all accounts, the horrors in the devastated southern port city of Mariupol are far worse.
“This is a war of murder, lots of blood. Many civilians are dying,” said Natalia Svitlova, a refugee from Dnipro in eastern Ukraine who fled to Poland. “I don’t understand why this is possible in the 21st century and why nobody can prevent it.”
Russia has withdrawn many of its forces from the capital area in recent days after being thwarted in its attempt to quickly seize Kyiv. Instead, it has sent troops and mercenaries to the east of the country to seize control of the Donbass, the largely Russian-speaking industrial region that includes Mariupol, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting and suffering of the war.
About two-thirds of Russian troops around Kyiv have now left and are either in Belarus or on their way there, where they are likely to get more supplies and reinforcements, said a senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity for an intelligence assessment to discuss.
Russian forces also appear to be repositioning artillery and troops to try to take the town of Izyum, which lies on a key route to Donbass, the official said.
Dmytro Zhyvystskyy, governor of Ukraine’s northern Sumy region, said Russian troops who had taken over the area en route to Kyiv had also retreated into Russia, with Ukrainian troops capturing small groups left behind.
Though united in outrage at the fallout outside of Kyiv, European allies appeared divided on how to respond.
Poland, which sits on the Ukrainian border and has taken in large numbers of refugees, has angrily singled out France and Germany for not cracking down, urging Europe to quickly disengage from Russian energy. But Germany said it would stick to a phased approach to phasing out coal and oil imports over the next few months.
Western and Ukrainian leaders have previously accused Russia of war crimes, and the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court has already opened an investigation. But recent reports have reinforced the sentencing.
French President Emmanuel Macron said there was “clear evidence of war crimes” in Bucha that required new punitive measures.
“I am for a new round of sanctions, especially on coal and petrol. We must act,” he said on France-Inter radio.
But Poland’s Prime Minister described Russia under Putin as a “totalitarian fascist state” and called for measures “that will finally break Putin’s war machine”.
“Would you negotiate with Hitler, with Stalin, with Pol Pot?” Mateusz Morawiecki asked Macron.
Announcing Germany’s expulsion of Russian diplomats, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the pictures from Bucha reveal the “incredible brutality of the Russian leadership and those who follow their propaganda”.
“We have to fear similar images from many other places occupied by Russian troops in Ukraine,” she added.
The US and its allies have tried to hit Russia with sweeping sanctions for the invasion, but fear further damage to the global economy, which is still recovering from the pandemic. Europe faces a particular dilemma as it gets 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia.
Putin’s February 24 invasion has killed thousands and forced more than 4 million Ukrainians to flee their country.
“The horrors we saw in Bucha are just the tip of the iceberg of all crimes committed by the Russian army on the territory of Ukraine so far,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
“And I can tell you without exaggeration but with great sadness that the situation in Mariupol is much worse compared to what we saw in Bucha and other towns and villages near Kyiv.”
Qena reported from Motyzhyn, Ukraine. Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine. Lolita Baldor in Washington and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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