Bodies unearthed from a mass burial site in a forest recaptured from Russian forces showed signs of torture, with their hands tied behinds their back and ropes around their necks, a Ukrainian prosecutor said on Friday.
The site, which police said contained 445 graves, was discovered close to Izium after a counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces retook the north-eastern city and much of the Kharkiv region.
As the first bodies began to be unearthed, the head of the Kharkiv prosecutor’s office, Oleksandr Filchakov, said some showed signs of torture.
President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier said the site was an example of “what the Russian occupation has led to.”
Ukraine’s leader announced the discovery of the mass grave in an overnight video address.
A senior investigator for Ukrainian police in the region told Sky News that the site was discovered near the city, describing the grave as “one of the largest burial sites in any one liberated city”.
Sergei Bolvinov told the broadcaster: “We know that some (of the people buried in the pit) were shot, some died from artillery fire, from so called mine-explosion traumas. Some died from air strikes. Also, we have information that a lot of bodies have not been identified yet,” Mr Bolvinov said.
He said officers were also aware of a number of other sites elsewhere in the Kharkiv region.
Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Yevhen Enin said bodies retrieved in the region showed evidence of torture.
The Associated Press saw a burial site in a forest outside Izium on Thursday. Amid the trees were hundreds of graves with simple wooden crosses, most of them marked only with numbers. A larger grave bore a marker saying it contained the bodies of 17 Ukrainian soldiers.
Izium resident Sergei Gorodko said that among the hundreds buried in individual graves were dozens of adults and children killed in a Russian airstrike on an apartment building.
He said he pulled some of them out of the rubble "with my own hands."
An image released by Mr Zelensky’s chief of staff showed many wooden crosses jutting up from mounds in the earth, surrounded by trees.
Mr Zelensky, in his nightly address, invoked the names of other Ukrainian cities where authorities said retreating Russian troops left behind mass civilian graves and evidence of possible war crimes.
“Bucha, Mariupol, now, unfortunately, Izium. ... Russia leaves death everywhere. And it must be held accountable for it. The world must bring Russia to real responsibility for this war,” he said.
Izium was retaken in a counter-attack by Ukrainian forces in the east of the country that has seen the recapture of more than 2,000 square miles of territory from Vladimir Putin’s forces this month.