Ukraine and western nations have called for new sanctions against Moscow on Sunday, reacting to gruesome images of dead bodies piled on the streets in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kyiv.
Accusing Russian forces of carrying out the “massacre”, Ukraine officials urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to carry out an investigation.
The images from the town, 37km northwest of Kyiv’s city centre, emerged after Ukraine said on Saturday its forces had reclaimed control of the whole Kyiv region and liberated towns from Russian troops.
They prompted outrage in Ukraine and abroad, adding to pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin by increasing the likelihood of further Western sanctions. Western nations have already sought to isolate Russia economically and punish it for the invasion, which began on 24 Feb.
“Bucha massacre was deliberate,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.
“It looks exactly like war crimes,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s spokesman told BBC television.
“We found mass graves. We found people with their hands and with their legs tied up… and with shots, bullet holes, in the back of their head.
“They were clearly civilians and they were executed.”
Russia’s defence ministry denied the Ukrainian allegations, saying footage and photographs showing bodies in Bucha were “yet another provocation” by the Ukrainian government.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the images as “a punch in the gut”, while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Russia must pay for “war crimes.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government would step up sanctions, as well as military and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
“Putin and his supporters will feel the consequences,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, adding that Western allies would agree on further sanctions in the coming days.
Germany’s defence minister Christine Lambrecht said the European Union must discuss banning the import of Russian gas – a departure from Berlin’s prior resistance to the idea of an embargo on Russian energy imports.
Russia requested that the UN Security Council convene on Monday to discuss what Moscow called a “provocation by Ukrainian radicals” in Bucha as the defence ministry in Moscow described photos and videos from the town as a “staged performance”.
Russia has previously denied targeting civilians and has rejected allegations of war crimes in what it calls a “special military operation” aimed at demilitarising and “denazifying” Ukraine. Ukraine says it was invaded without provocation.
On Saturday, Reuters saw bodies in a mass grave and still lying on the streets, while on Sunday the mayor of Bucha, Anatoliy Fedoruk, showed reporters two corpses with white cloth tied around their arms, one of which appeared to have been shot in the mouth.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Ukrainian troops had found the bodies of women who had been raped and set alight as well as the bodies of local officials and children.
Bucha’s mayor said 300 residents had been killed during a month-long occupation by the Russian army.
Reuters could not immediately verify the allegations by Arestovych and Fedoruk.
Ukraine’s foreign minister called on the International Criminal Court to collect evidence of what he called Russian war crimes, while the foreign ministers of France and Britain said their countries would support any such probe.
However, legal experts say a prosecution of Putin or other Russian leaders would face high hurdles and could take years.
Human Rights Watch said it had documented “several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations” in the Ukrainian regions of Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said prosecutors investigating possible war crimes by Russia had found 410 bodies in towns near Kyiv, of which 140 had been examined. (Source: CNA)