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What you need to know | War in Ukraine, day 39

(Butcha) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday accused Russia of committing ‘genocide’ in Ukraine to wipe out ‘the whole nation’, a day after scores of bodies were found on the streets of a town near Kyiv after the departure Russian forces.

Posted at 7:30 a.m.
Updated at 10:38 a.m.

Joe STENSON with Selim SAHEB ETTABA in Odessa
France Media Agency

What you need to know

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accuses Russia of committing ‘genocide’ in Ukraine;
  • Several international reactions to the situation in Boutcha;
  • Russian strikes hit Odessa, Ukraine’s main port on the Black Sea;
  • The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Britain’s Martin Griffiths, will be in Moscow on Sunday, before heading to Kyiv, with a mandate to seek a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine;
  • Efforts by Russian troops to consolidate their positions in southern and eastern Ukraine have so far met with Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol;
  • More than 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their country since the start of the invasion.

“Yes, it is genocide. The elimination of the whole nation and people, we are citizens of Ukraine. We have over 100 nationalities. It is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities,” he said in an interview with the American channel CBS.

“And this is happening in the Europe of the 21stand century”, he sighed, denouncing “the torture of the whole nation”.


PHOTO PRESS SERVICE OF THE UKRAINIAN PRESIDENCY VIA AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukraine had previously accused the Russian army of committing a “deliberate massacre” of civilians in Boutcha, a town northwest of Kyiv, as well as other “horrors” in the regions now “liberated from invader,” which sparked Western outrage and calls for additional sanctions against Moscow.

President Zelensky called for the “withdrawal of 100% of their troops” to return “at least” to the situation before February 24, the day of the Russian invasion.

“It would allow us to start discussing other questions about the end of the occupation, how we live after this,” he added on CBS, according to excerpts posted on Twitter.

I can’t even have an encounter as long as they’re bombing. So first the ceasefire, then we can meet the Russian president [Vladimir Poutine].

Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine

“Both of us are going to talk. When the end of the war comes, and then we will discuss security guarantees together, and the status of neutrality”, while “preserving our sovereignty and a powerful army”, he estimated, listing the Ukrainian proposals during the ongoing talks with Moscow.

“And if this agreement is violated, we must have the possibility of defending ourselves,” he warned.

“Once we have discussed all this, all troops must be withdrawn. And after their withdrawal, we can sit down with the countries that will serve as guarantors of security,” he added.

Indignation

The actions of the Russian military in Bucha sparked outrage in Europe and the United States as well as calls for additional sanctions against Moscow.

The President of the European Council, Berlin and London were among the first to denounce the “atrocities”, even the “war crimes”, committed in particular in Boutcha, where AFP had seen corpses in a street on Saturday and where nearly 300 people were buried in mass graves, according to Ukrainian authorities.

“We found mass graves. We found people with their hands and legs tied […] with bullet holes in the back of the head”, described for the BBC the spokesman for the Ukrainian president, Serguiï Nikiforovil, affirming that they were “clearly civilians”.

“The Boutcha massacre was deliberate. The Russians want to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can. We have to stop them and put them out. I demand devastating new G7 sanctions NOW,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

The latter demanded a total embargo on energy, the closure of ports to all Russian ships or goods and the disconnection of all Russian banks from the international financial platform Swift.


PHOTO VADIM GHIRDA, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Humanitarian aid has arrived in Boutcha.

His British counterpart Liz Truss, “horrified”, called for a “war crimes investigation” while the President of the European Council Charles Michel “shocked” announced on Twitter that the EU would “help Ukraine and NGOs to bring together evidence necessary for prosecution in international courts”. “More EU sanctions and aid are on the way,” he added.

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the “unsustainable” images coming from Boutcha, saying that “the Russian authorities will have to answer for these crimes”.

“The images that reach us from Boutcha, a liberated city near Kyiv, are unbearable”, wrote the head of state on Twitter, denouncing: “in the streets, hundreds of cowardly murdered civilians”.

The head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken also promised the contribution of the United States to “document” possible “war crimes” and this so that those responsible “are accountable”. The violence attributed to Russian forces in Boutcha is “a punch in the stomach”, he said.

“This terrible war crime cannot go unanswered,” said German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeckau, French and Italian Foreign Ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian and Luigi Di Maio, judging similarly that these acts could not not “go unpunished”.

“Anti-Humanity”

The Ukrainian presidential adviser, Mykhaïlo Podoliak, nevertheless regretted that the West tried “not to provoke the Russians” to avoid World War III, comparing the massacre of Boutcha to that of Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnians had been killed by Bosnian Serb Republic army units in 1995, during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“You wanted the Srebrenica of 21and century? […] Satisfied? […] Will you try to turn away again? Organize another summit to worry and shake your head? “, he wrote on the Telegram messenger, apostrophizing “the ‘leaders of Europe’ of yesterday and today very cool and omniscient, the hundreds of current European politicians, eating well and sleeping peacefully in their bed now.

The world is witnessing “a total and indescribable horror of anti-humanity in Boutcha, Irpin, Gostomel”, he laments, referring to “thousands” of victims, “killed” sometimes with “atrocity”, ” violated”.

Butcha and the nearby town of Irpin, both rendered unrecognizable by shelling, have been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting since Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, when Russian soldiers attempted to surround Kyiv.


PHOTO ZOHRA BENSEMRA, REUTERS

The streets of Boutcha ravaged by war.

The Russians withdrew from Irpin, Boutcha, Gostomel and the entire Kyiv region as well as from Cherniguiv, in the north of the country, to redeploy towards the east and the south.

“We should not be too optimistic” because “we fear a potential increase in attacks, especially in the south and east”, underlined NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday, who also castigated “unprecedented brutality in Europe for decades” in the Kyiv region.

In addition, the Russians leave behind them “many dangers”, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who accuses them of “undermining the territories they are leaving”.


PHOTO RONALDO SCHEMIDT, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Several buildings were damaged in Boutcha.

In a statement on Sunday, the human rights organization Human Rights Watch also denounced abuses by Russian soldiers against civilians amounting to “war crimes” in the regions of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv, saying they had identified several cases of “violations of the laws of war” (rape, summary executions, violence, threats, looting)

For her part, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Audrey Azoulay, condemned the murder of the photographer and videographer Maksim Levin who went missing on March 13, whose body was found in a village north of Kyiv on Saturday, calling “firmly for the protection” of the media.

Discussions in Moscow

While the war has caused at least thousands of deaths and has forced nearly 4.2 million Ukrainians into exile, 90% of them women and children, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Briton Martin Griffiths will be in Moscow on Sunday, before traveling to Kyiv, mandated to seek a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine.

Until now, Russia has refused any visit by a senior UN official whose main subject is Ukraine.

Its chief negotiator in the peace talks with Ukraine, Vladimir Medinski, on Sunday praised a “more realistic” position of Kyiv ready, under conditions, to accept a neutral and denuclearized status of the country, demanded by Moscow.

But he said he did not “share the optimism” of Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia. The latter had hinted on Saturday that the discussions aimed at ending the hostilities had made considerable progress. “Ukrainian diplomatic and military ‘experts’ are slow to confirm even the agreements already reached at the political level,” Medinsky said.

Still on the diplomatic front, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias arrived in Odessa on Sunday, bringing humanitarian aid to this port in southwestern Ukraine, located on the Black Sea, attacked a few hours earlier.

Early Sunday morning, half a dozen explosions shook the walls of the historic city, so far spared from the fighting, according to AFP journalists and residents. Then a cloud of black smoke blocked part of the horizon.

These strikes did not cause casualties according to the regional command of the Ukrainian army. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that “high-precision missile fire from the sea and land” had destroyed “a refinery and three fuel and lubricant depots” near this city.

Cities under siege

In the south-east of the country, efforts by Russian troops to consolidate their positions have so far met with resistance from Ukrainians in Mariupol, where some 160,000 people are still believed to be blocked and at least 5,000 inhabitants have been killed, according to local authorities. Among these victims is the Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius, 45, killed while trying to leave this port city besieged by the Russians, announced Sunday the Ukrainian army.


PHOTO ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO, REUTERS ARCHIVES

A lady walks near a heavily damaged building in Mariupol.

For Moscow, controlling Mariupol would ensure territorial continuity from Crimea to the two pro-Russian separatist republics of Donbass, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Unable for weeks, evacuations began on a small scale. On Saturday, some “1,263 people” traveled from Mariupol and Berdiansk to Zaporizhia by their own means, and a dozen buses in a convoy left Berdiansk, with 300 Mariupol residents on board, the Deputy Prime Minister announced in the evening. Iryna Vereshchuk on Telegram. Other evacuations took place in the east of the country.

Russian forces also continue “to partially block the city of Kharkiv”, the second largest city in Ukraine, located in the east.

Russia also plans “to create battalions formed from ‘volunteer’ residents of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and mercenaries”, notes the same source.

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