BUCHA, UKRAINE —
Warning: This story contains details that may be disturbing.
Ukraine’s troops found brutalized bodies with bound hands, gunshot wounds to the head and signs of torture after Russian soldiers withdrew from the outskirts of Kyiv, authorities said Sunday, sparking new calls for a war crimes investigation and sanctions against Russia.
Associated Press journalists in Bucha, a small city northwest of the capital, saw the bodies of at least nine people in civilian clothes who appeared to have been killed at close range. At least two had their hands tied behind their backs. The AP also saw two bodies wrapped in plastic, bound with tape and thrown into a ditch.
Authorities said they were documenting evidence of alleged atrocities to add to their case for prosecuting Russian officials for war crimes. To convict, International Criminal Courts prosecutors will need to show a pattern of indiscriminant deadly assaults on civilians during Russia’s invasion.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said scores of residents were found slain on the streets of Bucha and the Kyiv suburbs of Irpin and Hostomel in what looked like a “scene from a horror movie.”
Some people were shot in the head and had their hands bound, and some bodies showed signs of torture, Arestovych said. There were also reports of rapes, he said.
A day earlier, AP journalists witnessed Ukrainian soldiers gingerly removing at least six bodies from a street in Bucha with cables in case the Russians had booby-trapped corpses with explosives before their withdrawal. Local residents said the dead people were civilians killed without provocation, a claim that could not be independently verified.
“What happened in Bucha and other suburbs of Kyiv can only be described as genocide,” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko told German newspaper Bild. Klitschko called on other nations to immediately end Russian gas imports, saying they were funding the killings.
“Not a penny should go to Russia anymore. That’s bloody money used to slaughter people. The gas and oil embargo must come immediately,” the mayor said.
Russian troops moved into Ukraine from three sides on Feb. 24, and soldiers who entered from the north in Belarus spent weeks trying to clear a path to Kyiv. Their advance stalled in the face of resolute defiance from Ukraine’s defenders, and Moscow said this week it would concentrate the invasion elsewhere going forward.
Signs of fierce fighting were everywhere in the wake of Russian troops retreating north to back to Belarus: destroyed armored vehicles from both armies lay in streets and fields along with scattered military gear. The Ukrainian military said its troops continued to comb areas outside of the capital for mines, the dead and for any Russian lingering fighters.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, also called for tougher sanctions on Russia, including a complete energy embargo, over the discoveries north of Kyiv. Kuleba tweeted Sunday that the “Bucha massacre was deliberate,” alleging the “Russians aim to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can.”
Charles Michel, president of the European Council, wrote on Twitter that he was shocked by the “haunting images of atrocities committed by the Russian army” in the capital region. The EU and non-governmental organizations were assisting in the effort to preserve evidence of war crimes, according to Michel, who promised “further EU sanctions” against Russia.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy and the UK separately condemned what was being described and said Russia would be held accountable.
“We will not allow Russia to cover up their involvement in these atrocities through cynical disinformation and will ensure that the reality of Russia’s actions are brought to light, ΓÇ│ British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.
As Russia retreated from the capital, other parts of the country were under siege. Russia has said it is directing troops to eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.
Mariupol, a southeastern port located on the Sea of Azov, remained cut off from the rest of the country as Russian ground forces fought to occupy the city. About 100,000 civilians – less than a quarter of the prewar 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 it hoped a team of nine staffers and three vehicles it sent Saturday to help evacuate residents would reach Mariupol on Sunday but cautioned, “The situation on the ground is volatile and subject to rapid changes.”
Ukrainian authorities said Russia agreed days ago to allow safe passage from the city, which has been the site of some of the worst attacks and greatest suffering, but similar agreements have broken down repeatedly under continued shelling.
A supermarket parking lot in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia has become the staging ground for tens of thousands of people fleeing Mariupol.
Peycheva Olena, who made it out of the besieged city, told Britain’s Sky News she was forced to leave the body of her husband unburied when he was killed in shooting.
“There was shelling, and we tried to drag him away but it was too much, we couldn’t do it,” explained her daughter, Kristina Katrikova.
While the geography of the battlefield morphed, little changed for many Ukrainians on the 39th day of a war that has felt more than 4 million people fleeing the country as refugees and displaced millions more from their homes.
The mayor of Chernihiv, which has also been under attack for weeks, said Sunday that relentless Russian shelling has destroyed 70% of the northern city. Like in Mariupol, Chernihiv has been cut off from shipments of food and other supplies.
“People think how they can live until tomorrow,” Major Vladyslav Atroshenko said.
On Sunday morning, Russian forces launched missiles on the Black Sea port of Odesa, in southern Ukraine, sending up clouds of dark smoke that veiled parts of the city. The Russian military said the targets were an oil processing plant and fuel depots around Odessa, which is Ukraine’s largest port and home to its navy.
“I live in that eight-floor building. At six in the morning, Russia launched an attack, and this piece of rock reached my house,” said Maiesienko Ilia, who lives near one of the targeted facilities.
The Odesa city council said Ukraine’s air defense shot down some missiles before they hit the city. Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Nazarov said there were no casualties from the attack.
The regional governor in Kharkiv, said Sunday that Russian artillery and tanks performed over 20 strikes on Ukraine’s second-largest city and its outskirts in the country’s northeast over the past day.
The head of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia said Moscow’s negotiators informally agreed to most of a draft proposal discussed during face-to-face talks in Istanbul this week, but no written confirmation has been provided.
The Ukrainian negotiator, Davyd Arakhamia said on Ukrainian TV that he hoped the proposal was developed enough so Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin could meet to discuss it. But the top Russian negotiator in talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinksy, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying it was too early to talk about a meeting between the two leaders.
As his country’s troops retouched territory north of the capital from the departing Russian troops, Zelenskyy called on all Ukrainians to do whatever they could “to foil the enemy’s tactics and weaken its capabilities.”
“Peace will not be the result of any decisions the enemy makes somewhere in Moscow. There is no need to entertain empty hopes that they will simply leave our land. We can only have peace by fighting,” Zelenskyy said late Saturday.
Yuras Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Andrea Rosa in Irpin, Ukraine, and Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.