BUCHA, Ukraine — Bodies with bound hands, point-blank gunshot wounds and signs of torture lay strewn across a town on the outskirts of kyiv after Russian troops withdrew from the area. Ukrainian authorities accused the departing forces on Sunday of committing war crimes and leaving behind a “scene from a horror movie”.
As images of the bodies – of people who locals say had been killed indiscriminately – began to emerge from Bucha, a host of European leaders condemned the atrocities and called for tougher sanctions on Moscow. In a sign of how the horrific reports shook many leaders, Germany’s defense minister even suggested the European Union consider banning imports of Russian gas.
So far, the bodies of 410 civilians have been found in towns in the Kyiv region that were recently recaptured from Russian forces, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said.
Associated Press reporters saw the bodies of at least 21 people at various locations around Bucha, northwest of the capital. A group of nine people, all in civilian clothes, were scattered around a site that locals said Russian troops were using as a base. They appeared to have been shot at close range. At least two of them had their hands tied behind their backs, one was shot in the head and another had his legs tied.
Ukrainian officials have blamed the killings in Bucha and other Kyiv suburbs on the feet of Russian troops, with the president calling them evidence of genocide. But the Russian Defense Ministry dismissed the charges of “provocation”.
The findings followed the Russian withdrawal from the area around the capital, territory which has seen heavy fighting since troops invaded Ukraine from three directions on February 24. The troops that swept north through Belarus spent weeks trying to force their way into kyiv, but their advance stalled in the face of resolute defense by Ukrainian forces.
Moscow now says it is focusing its offensive on the east of the country, but it has also besieged a northern city and continued to batter towns elsewhere in a war that has claimed thousands of lives and forced more than 4 million Ukrainians to flee their country. .
Russian troops arrived at Bucha early in the invasion and remained until March 30. After those forces left, residents on Sunday delivered harrowing accounts, saying soldiers shot and killed civilians for no apparent reason.
A resident, who declined to be named out of fear for his safety, said Russian troops were going from building to building and pulling people out of the basements where they were hiding, checking their phones for any evidence of anti-terrorism activity. -Russian and taking them away or shooting them.
Another resident, Hanna Herega, said Russian troops started shooting at a neighbor who had gone out to get wood for heating.
“They hit him a little above the heel, crushing the bone, and he fell,” Herega said. “Then they shot his left leg all the way, with the boot. Then they shot him all over (the chest). And another shot went slightly below the temple. It was a controlled shot to the head .
The AP also saw two bodies, that of a man and a woman, wrapped in plastic which locals said they covered and placed in a well until a proper funeral could be arranged.
The resident who declined to be identified said the man was killed as he left a house.
“He put his hands up and they shot him,” he said.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, described the bodies lying in the streets of the suburbs of Irpin and Hostomel as well as Bucha as “a scene from a horror movie”. He alleged that some of the women found dead were raped before they were killed and that the Russians then burned the bodies.
“This is genocide,” Zelenskyy told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
But the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the photos and videos of corpses “were staged by the kyiv regime for Western media.” He noted that the mayor of Bucha had not mentioned any abuses a day after the departure of Russian troops.
The ministry said “not a single civilian faced violent action from the Russian military” in Bucha.
In Motyzhyn, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of kyiv, residents told the AP on Sunday that Russian troops killed the town’s mayor, her husband and son and dumped their bodies in a pit in a pine forest behind houses where the Russian forces had slept. . Inside the pit, AP reporters saw four bodies of people who appeared to have been shot at close range. The mayor’s husband had his hands behind his back, with a piece of rope nearby and a piece of plastic wrapped around his eyes like a blindfold.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has confirmed that the mayor was killed while in the custody of Russian forces.
Some European leaders have declared the killings in the kyiv region to be war crimes. The United States has previously said it believes Russia committed war crimes, and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called footage of what happened near kyiv “a punch in the belly” on CNN’s “State of the Union”.
“This is brutality against civilians that we haven’t seen in Europe for decades,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in the same broadcast.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko called on nations to immediately end imports of Russian gas, saying they were funding the killings.
In a reversal, the German defense minister said the EU should consider doing just that. Ministers “should talk about stopping gas supplies from Russia,” Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told German public broadcaster ARD on Sunday evening. “Such crimes must not go unaddressed.”
Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s gas and 25% of its oil, and so far many EU countries have resisted calls to reduce or completely end dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Dropping them would mean even higher prices at the pump and higher utility bills, potentially creating an energy crisis and recession.
The United States previously announced a ban on Russian oil, but it only imports a small portion of Russia’s oil exports and does not buy any of its natural gas.
As Russian forces retreated from the area around the capital, they reinforced their sieges in other parts of the country. Russia said it was leading troops to Donbass in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces for eight years.
In this region, Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov which saw some of the greatest suffering of the war, remained isolated. Around 100,000 civilians – less than a quarter of the pre-war population of 430,000 – would be trapped there with little or no food, water, fuel and medicine.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Sunday that a team sent on Saturday to help evacuate residents had yet to reach the town.
Ukrainian authorities said Russia agreed days ago to allow safe passage from the city, but similar agreements have repeatedly been broken under continued shelling.
The mayor of Chernihiv, who has also been cut off from food deliveries and other supplies for weeks, said Sunday that relentless Russian shelling had destroyed 70% of the northern city.
The Kharkiv regional governor said on Sunday that Russian artillery and tanks had launched more than 20 strikes on Ukraine’s second-largest city and its outskirts in the northeast of the country over the past day.
The head of Ukraine’s delegation in talks with Russia says Moscow negotiators informally agreed to most of a draft proposal discussed in face-to-face talks in Istanbul this week, but no written confirmation has been forthcoming. has been provided.
Qena reported from Motyzhyn, Ukraine. Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Ukraine, and Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine