AFP journalists present on Friday in Izium, a town recently recaptured from Russian forces, saw hundreds of graves in a nearby forest, where the bodies of civilians and soldiers who died during the fighting and occupation, got burried.
According to local authorities, a total of 443 graves were found at this site, including one grave containing the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers. Two men in white clothes were digging the bottom in the sandy soil there on Friday, near a cross with the inscription: “Ukrainian army, 17 people. Izioum, from the morgue”.
According to Oleg Kotenko, official for the search for missing persons, these graves were dug during the fighting when the city was captured by Russian forces in March and during the Russian occupation, which ended last week. Some graves could contain several bodies.
“The graves that don’t bear names are those of people (found) on the street,” said Mr Kotenko, according to whom “there are many people who died of hunger”. “This part of the city was isolated with no supplies. People were blocked, nothing worked”.
“There are also other cemeteries in the city, but we didn’t go there. So we don’t know what the situation is” as a whole, he added.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights immediately indicated that it wanted to send a team to Izioum “soon” to “determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these people”.
– “Torture Room” –
The Ukrainian police chief, Igor Klymenko, informed him of the discovery of ten “torture rooms” at sites taken back from the Russians in the Kharkiv region, including two of them in the city of Balakliia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Izium on Wednesday for his first visit to this Russian border region in the northeast of the country since the departure of Russian forces, driven out by a counter-offensive launched in early September on several fronts.
Presidential adviser Mykhaïlo Podoliak assured on Twitter on Friday that these graves are “just one of the massive burial grounds discovered near Izioum”, where “for months terror, violence, torture and mass murder have reigned supreme”.
AFP had already visited Izium, a town of around 50,000 inhabitants, before the war, shortly after the departure of the Russian forces on the night between Saturday and Sunday. The destruction there was considerable with houses and administrative buildings destroyed by the fighting and the carcasses of armored vehicles strewn on the roads.
Mr. Zelensky on Thursday compared the discovery to the one made in Boutcha, a town on the outskirts of Kiev, where the bodies of civilians coldly executed had been discovered after the departure of Russian forces at the end of March. Moscow has denied committing these abuses.
On the frontline on Friday, 12 people were injured in “massive” Russian shelling in areas recently retaken from the Russians in the Kharkiv region, and another four people in the city of Kharkiv itself, according to regional authorities.
– “Battles of Position” –
In Dnipropetrovsk, in the central-eastern part of the country, one person was injured in the bombings, which targeted the cities of Nikopol and Kryvyi Rig, the birthplace of Mr. Zelensky, where the Russian forces damaged in a hydraulic infrastructure in an attack on Wednesday, causing a flooding of the Ingoulets River and floods.
In the east, “battles for positions” took place in the Lugansk region, while Russian bombardment in the Donetsk region, particularly on Bakhmout, left five dead and six wounded, according to the Ukrainian presidency.
On the southern front, where the Ukrainian forces face more resistance than in Kharkiv, “the situation remains difficult”, but the Ukrainian forces, according to the same source, continue to bombard the bridges used by Moscow’s forces.
After the invasion, which was launched on February 24, the West imposed a series of sanctions on Russia while providing weapons to Kiev, crucial support for which Washington on Thursday approved a new installment of up to $600 million.
On a visit to Kiev, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged on Thursday that the EU would stand by Ukraine “as long as it takes,” then pleaded on television for Russian President Vladimir Putin to appear before international justice.
The latter met on Thursday with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Uzbekistan on the sidelines of a regional summit, where on Friday he welcomed the “new centers of power” emerging in the world towards the West.