Investigators searching through the mass burial site in Ukraine have found evidence that some of the dead were tortured, including bodies with broken limbs and ropes around their necks, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said.
The site near Izium, which was recently recaptured from Russian forces, appears to be one of the largest of its kind discovered in Ukraine.
Zelensky tweeted: “Russia is a terrorist country. I don’t know why the world is slow to recognize it. We liberated Izium. Over 400 graves were found in the forest next to it.
“How many tortured Ukrainians are there is unknown. How many more of our people must die so that is all finally figured it out?”
Zelensky spoke in a video he rushed out just hours after the exhumations began, apparently to underscore the gravity of the discovery. He said more than 400 graves have been found at the site but that the number of victims isn’t yet known.
Digging in the rain, workers hauled body after body out of the sandy soil in a misty pine forest near Izium. Protected by head-to-toe suits and rubber gloves, they gently felt through the decomposing remains of the victims’ clothing, seemingly looking for identifying items.
Associated Press journalists who visited the site saw graves marked with simple wooden crosses. Flowers hung from the markers on some of the graves, and some bore people’s names.
Before exhumation, investigators with metal detectors scanned the site for explosives. Soldiers strung red and white plastic tape between the trees.
Zelensky said hundreds of civilian adults and children, as well as soldiers, had been found “tortured, shot, killed by shelling” near Izium’s Pishchanske cemetery.
He cited evidence of atrocities, such as a body with a rope around its neck and broken arms. In another sign of possible torture, one man was found with his hands tied, according to Serhiy Bohdan, the head of Kharikiv police investigations, and Ukraine’s commissioner for human rights, Dmytro Lubinets.
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.