War in Ukraine: Some bodies in mass burial site in Ukraine show torture signs, says prosecutor

Some of the bodies unearthed from a mass burial site in a forest in Ukraine recaptured from Russian forces show signs of torture, with their hands tied behinds their back and ropes around their necks, a Ukrainian prosecutor has said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the site was an example of “what the Russian occupation has led to”.

The site, which police said contained 445 graves, was discovered close to Izium after a rapid counter-offensive by Ukrainian forces retook the north-eastern city and much of the Kharkiv region, breaking what had largely become a stalemate in the nearly seven-month war.

To bolster the offensive, the Joe Biden administration announced another $600 million [£525m] package of military aid on Thursday for Ukraine, including more of the weaponry that has helped its troops seize the momentum.

Forensic technicians dig a grave in a forest on the outskirts of Izyum in eastern Ukraine. Picture: Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images

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Journalists who visited the burial site on Thursday saw graves amid the pine trees, marked with simple wooden crosses. Most were numbered – and the count went past 400.

It was not clear who was buried in many of the plots or how all of them died, though witnesses and a Ukrainian investigator said some were shot and others were killed by artillery fire, mines or air strikes.

As the first bodies began to be unearthed, the head of the Kharkiv prosecutor’s office, Oleksandr Filchakov, said some showed signs of torture.

Earlier, Ukrainian officials said the majority of the people buried were believed to be civilians. But there was at least one mass grave, with a marker saying it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.

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In his nightly televised address on Thursday, Mr Zelensky said “more information – clear, verifiable information” about the burial site was expected soon.

“The necessary procedural actions have already begun there,” he said. “We want the world to know what is really happening and what the Russian occupation has led to.”

Mr Zelensky invoked the names of other Ukrainian cities where authorities said retreating Russian troops left behind mass graves of civilians.

“Bucha, Mariupol, now, unfortunately, Izium,” he said. “Russia leaves death everywhere. And it must be held accountable for it.”

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The marking of individual graves with wooden crosses differed from some other burial sites discovered earlier in the war, including some around Kyiv that are being investigated as sites of possible war crimes. Bodies found outside the capital in the town of Bucha and elsewhere after Russian forces withdrew had been dumped together and buried without markers.

Izium resident Sergei Gorodko said among the hundreds buried in individual graves were dozens of adults and children killed in a Russian air strike on an apartment building.

He said he pulled some of them out of the rubble “with my own hands”.

Sergei Bolvinov, a senior investigator for Ukrainian police, told Sky News that some of the people buried were shot, while others died from artillery fire, mines or air strikes.

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