Ukraine on Sunday accused Russia of “genocide”, claiming to have found the bodies of 410 civilians in the kyiv region recently recaptured from Moscow forces. Macabre discoveries that have raised indignation in Europe and the United States.
‘Yes, it is a genocide. The elimination of the whole nation and people (…). And this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the American channel CBS.
Then he said, in a video message, that the Russian leaders must be held responsible for the ‘murders’ and ‘tortures’ in Boutcha, specifying that a ‘special mechanism’ would be created to investigate all ‘crimes’ Russians in Ukraine.
According to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova, the lifeless bodies of 410 civilians were found in the territories of the Kyiv region recently recaptured from Russian troops.
In turn, Washington, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid or London have denounced the “atrocities”, even the “war crimes”, committed in particular in Boutcha, a small town northwest of kyiv where many corpses of civilians were visible in the streets.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said he was “deeply shocked”, called for “an independent investigation”.
Images made for Moscow
The Russian army has denied having killed civilians in Boutcha, claiming to have withdrawn on March 30 from this city and accusing Ukraine of having fabricated the images ‘for the Western media’.
The war has killed at least thousands of people and forced nearly 4.2 million Ukrainians into exile, 90% of them women and children, since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.
‘It was hell’
AFP had seen on Saturday the corpses of at least twenty men wearing civilian clothes lying in a street in Boutcha, reconquered this week by Ukrainian troops. One of them had his hands tied and the bodies were scattered over several hundred meters. “It was hell…God saved us,” a man in the town told AFP.
The bodies of 57 people were found in a mass grave in Boutcha, the local relief chief said on Sunday, showing an AFP team the site.
‘Punch in the stomach’
“These images are a punch in the stomach,” reacted the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken on the CNN channel. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for his part denounced a “brutality unprecedented in Europe for decades” and French President Emmanuel Macron affirmed that “the Russian authorities will have to answer for these crimes”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called Russia’s ‘despicable attacks’ on civilians a ‘war crime’, vowing to increase sanctions on Moscow.
In Geneva, the UN said the discovery of the bodies in Boutcha raised ‘serious questions about possible war crimes.
New penalties required
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has demanded immediate new G7 sanctions against Russia, including a full energy embargo, the closure of ports to any Russian ships or goods and the disconnection of all banks from the international financial platform Swift.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also called for new sanctions against Moscow.
Boutcha compared to Srebrenica
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podoliak nevertheless regretted that the West was trying ‘not to provoke the Russians’ to avoid World War III, comparing the Boutcha massacre to that of Srebrenica in 1995, during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina .
Boutcha 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, when Russian soldiers attempted to surround kyiv.
Human Rights Watch also denounced on Sunday abuses by Russian soldiers against civilians amounting to ‘war crimes’ in the Chernihiv, Kharkiv and kyiv regions, saying it had identified several cases of ‘violations of the laws of war’ (rape, summary executions, violence, threats, looting).
UN official in Moscow
Russian troops withdrew from Irpin, Boutcha, Gostomel and the entire kyiv region as well as Cherniguiv in the north of the country to redeploy to the east and south.
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, the Briton Martin Griffiths, arrived in this context Sunday evening in Moscow, before going to kyiv, mandated to seek a humanitarian cease-fire 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 by kyiv ready, under conditions, to accept a neutral and denuclearized status for the country, demanded by Moscow.
But he said he did not “share the optimism” of Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia, who had hinted that talks aimed at ending hostilities had made considerable progress.
Greek aid to Odessa
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.
These strikes did not cause casualties according to the regional command of the Ukrainian army. The Russian Ministry of Defense said meanwhile that fire from “high precision missiles from the sea and land” had destroyed “a refinery and three depots of fuel and lubricants” near this city.
Mariupol still resists
One person was killed and 14 injured in a Russian strike in Mykolaiv (south), a strategic town on the road to Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, according to local authorities. One person was also killed when a Russian shell exploded against a hospital in Rubizhne, in the east.
In the south-east of the country, Russian troops’ efforts to consolidate their positions have so far met with Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, where some 160,000 people are believed to still be stranded and at least 5,000 of whom 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.
For Moscow, controlling Mariupol would ensure territorial continuity from Crimea to the two pro-Russian separatist republics of Donbass. Russia announced at the end of the week that it wanted to “focus its efforts on the liberation” of this mining basin in eastern Ukraine.
Hundreds of people – women, children and the elderly – fled the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Sunday for fear of a possible Russian offensive in this part of the country, AFP noted.
Russian forces also continue to ‘partially blockade the city of Kharkiv’, Ukraine’s second largest city, also in the east.
While nearly 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their country since February 24, more than 500,000 people have returned to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry announced on Sunday.