The discovery of mass graves in a Ukrainian city formerly occupied by Russian forces has prompted the European Union presidency to call for the creation of a war crimes tribunal after some of the exhumed bodies showed signs of possible torture.
The bodies were discovered Thursday, days after Ukrainian forces liberated the city of Izyum from Russian troops. According to Euractiv, officials found 450 graves in a pine forest, many of which were marked by wooden crosses.
Oleg Synegubov, the head of the Kharkiv administration, a northeast city in Ukraine, wrote on his Facebook page Friday that 99% of the bodies show signs of a violent death. Synegubov stated that many bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs, and one person was buried with a rope around their neck.
The Kharkiv administration official wrote that 200 law enforcement officials were investigating the site where the bodies were found.
“The bodies will be sent for forensic examination to accurately determine the cause of death,” he wrote. “Once the bodies of the deceased have been identified, they will all be buried with proper honor. Every death will be investigated and become proof of Russia's military crimes in international courts.”
Jan Lipvasky, foreign minister of the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, expressed disgust in a Saturday tweet at the idea that such attacks would take place against a civilian population in the 21st century, calling it “unthinkable and abhorrent.”
“We must not overlook it,” he said. “We stand for the punishment of all war criminals. I call for the speedy establishment of a special international tribunal that will prosecute the crime of aggression.”
As the BBC reported Friday, while it's not clear what happened to the victims, some early accounts suggest they might have died from shelling or lack of proper healthcare. Ihor Klymenko, the head of Ukraine's national police service, told the BBC that most of the bodies belonged to civilians. He added that while soldiers are believed to be buried there, so far, there has been no confirmation of this fact.
A senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mykhailo Podolyak, also said in a statement to the BBC that the liberation of some areas in the country has led to the discovery of other mass burials.
"We saw many places where people were tortured," Podolyak said. "We saw wildly frightened people who were kept without light, without food, without water, and without the right to justice. Because there was no authority there, there were only people with weapons."
The United Nations is considering send a team to Izyum, according to the BBC.
This is not the first time that mass graves have been discovered in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of the country began in February.
In April, satellite imagery showed a possible mass grave outside the port city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, which was believed to have contained as many as 9,000 bodies. The Mariupol City Council posted the images of the mass grave site located just about 12 miles from the city on Telegram.
"The biggest war crime of the 21st century was committed in Mariupol. This is the new Babyn Yar. Then Hitler killed Jews, Roma and Slavs. And now Putin is destroying Ukrainians. He has already killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mariupol. And this requires a strong reaction from the entire civilized world. Anything needs to stop the genocide," Mayor Vadym Boychenko said on Telegram.
The mayor said Russian troops collected corpses from Mariupol’s streets before transporting them on trucks to the nearby village of Manhush, where they threw them in a mass grave in a field near the settlement’s old cemetery.
“The invaders are concealing evidence of their crimes. The cemetery is located near a petrol station to the left side of a circular road. The Russians have dug huge trenches 30 meters wide. They chuck people in,” he said.